It is one of the most perplexing, laughable suggestions to when someone tries to throw into a conversation, “Christianity and the Bible are so oppressive to women!” Surely, they are reading some other book? And while I can admit that there are churches and people who claim to be teaching the a Christian message while demeaning women, that problem is not rooted in truth of the Bible.
This has been so sweetly brought back to mind this past week. We lit the first advent candle on Sunday, a nice moment for our family and a nice moment for me personally, as I have felt our church here became the kind of home here in Virginia that our church in Ohio was. I wondered as I read and reread the passage I was to read if I’d make it through without my voice cracking. This Christmas has felt newer than many in recent years, fresher, brighter, greener. The magic that the movies tell us should be a part of the season and so many years we feel like we’re failing at Christmas because that is missing…well it’s there. But that’s not the reason I thought my voice might break and betray the emotion I felt about the passage.
It’s a story we know. Mary is pregnant. Joseph is supposed to marry her, but, oh no, pregnant fiancee, not the thing you wanted in those days. Joseph had figured out how to handle it. Quietly divorce her. Don’t let her be too disgraced, but certainly, he wasn’t going to hang around and deal with that. Then the angel comes to him in a dream and tells him this, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
And my voice cracks.
We do acknowledge that Mary was in a tough situation, but do we read the story slow enough to recognize these things?
First, God could have formed Jesus from clay. God could have just poofed Jesus down from heaven. But no. Jesus chose that the first interaction he would have, would be with a woman, being intimately connected and totally dependent on a woman. In order for Jesus to come to us in the way he did, He has to value women. He has to value women enough that he is willing to make his life depend on her. If God had to be at that point to come to us, certainly He doesn’t find women less than.
Second, God could have put Mary in that situation and just said “Trust in me and it will all be ok.” But He didn’t. He provided for Mary physically, giving her the social protection of a husband, giving her the daily provision of a wage earner. And to top it off, it presses in the message that we are designed for community. After God split the cells and began incarnation, he created and ensured community for his son and for her. If God shows up for Mary, to met her physical, social and emotional needs, won’t he do that for us, too?
Third, God anticipated Joseph’s doubts and concerns. God anticipated Joseph issue of pride and prepared an answer to questions I don’t even know if he knew he was asking. “How can I do what is right? It makes no sense to do this, so I will do something easier. And…really? This is the story she’s going with? Pregnant by God? And right there, God anticipates this very human response, but I can also see that he anticipates male pride, male ego, the struggle to fulfill a male stereotype and the concerns that are still to this day very male. And in order to value what He does in a woman, he has to assure a man, what is going on here, you can trust it. If God speaks to the pride of one man to assure him that he is working in one woman, can’t we hear his word echo over our stories as well?
This is the first Christmas I’ve experienced since my decision to go into ministry and that sentence is so sweet to me. Over and over I hear, “What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”
Some of the brightest highlights of this year was turning to my husband and telling him I wanted to go into ministry and he said “If that’s what you’re supposed to do, then that’s what you do.” A friend told me when I told her “You let me know. Any church that would have you as a pastor is a church I’d go to!” My cousin told me she’s known basically for decades that this was my path. Over and over people this year have stopped me mid-sentence to say “I just want to affirm this for you.”
I am a woman walking towards ministry. I am a person who I know some churches object to, some churches limit opportunities to. I have attended those churches. But in this passage, just like I have heard all year long in encouragement, I hear God saying “Walk ahead in this. What I’ve started is of the Holy Spirit.” It certainly doesn’t mean that everything that a woman puts her mind to is of God, that’s not my point, but it is my assertion that just like at the beginning of the sweetest and best story ever told, God uses a woman, values her immensely and then goes around breaking down pride and adjusting human perceptions to protect his work in a woman.
Just one of many moments in the Bible where God frees women, values women, honors women, uses women. There are certainly enough to tell about all year long, but right now, at Christmastime, this is the one that is singing with my heart. Do not be afraid. God started this. God will provide for what He’s started. God’s got this, girl.