The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
You have made the nation great;
you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
as those who divide plunder rejoice.
As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
the staff on their shoulders,
and the rod of their oppressor.
Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned, fuel for the fire.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
and authority will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
establishing and sustaining it
with justice and righteousness
now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7, CEB)
Merry Christmas, Reader! It has been quite the journey this particular Advent; now we come to the “payoff,” so to speak. Christ is born—alleluia! The Church year has restarted and soon the calendar one will as well—but what shall happen to the women when Advent ends and the Church follows the very much male Jesus through His life?
Today’s particular passage from Isaiah, besides being a pair of great pieces from the Messiah oratorio by Handel, is applicable not least because there are so many ways in which we walk in darkness. From the context of this female-affirming Advent series, we walk in the darkness of those who continue to overlook the gifts and presence of women within and outside of the Church. We walk in the darkness of humorous nativities that still don’t challenge the lack of women in our faith stories (you can have an iPhone but not a female angel, really?). We walk in the darkness of those who are still arguing God intended women to be utterly submissive to men. We walk in the darkness of clouded glass ceilings. We walk in the darkness of having to choose and defend pronouns for God as though God actually has a gender and inclusivity of both “He” and “She” somehow challenges God’s ability to be God. We walk in the darkness of inequity and injustice.
And oh, how good to see a great light.
In this passage Isaiah hails one who made the nation great—long before red hats ever proclaimed the campaign slogan, Cyrus of Persia sent Israelites back home to rebuild their temple after having been in exile for hundreds of years. Christians of the early Church took the passage and remade it to recognize the risen Christ who would make all nations great in shattering the binding yokes and oppressors’ rods. In this new place with this new ruler will be justice and righteousness flowing like the rivers Amos invoked in his prophecies.
Part of that justice, part of that righteousness, is the Church’s commitment to honor its people through the year. Mary and Elizabeth fade back into the Christian tapestry now that Jesus is born, but their voices are not silenced. Mary continues to appear in Jesus’ life as an important figure, and other Marys and a Martha and many nameless women walk across that world-changing stage. Women do not drop out of the narrative, then or now; their voices continue to be important, their gifts continue to deserve development, and their place in the work of bringing God’s reign into human life continues to matter.
So how can the Church work into this justice? Listen to women’s stories; hear their voices without trying to correct them or reshape them. If you are a woman and you feel comfortable doing so, tell your story; speak of what religion and faith mean to you and the places within your tradition where you find acceptance. Actively seek to place women in leadership roles—and women, do not settle for not having them. Learn about the damaging history the Church has with women and pay attention to the ways that those words and actions continue in the present day. Challenge fellow Christians not to let passive sexism slide. Challenge yourself to call out those who make crass comments or jokes to you. Pray for guidance in relationships with those identifying as female. Read through Scripture, paying attention to the places women are and aren’t. Love the women around you, whether as a woman yourself or as an ally and supporter. Recognize that Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, did not turn away from women, and neither can we.
Merry Christmas. May the love, the joy, the hope, and the peace of the season go with you to your places of celebration. May the coming year truly bring us closer to the increased joy of a land on which light has dawned and women and men are both understood to be gifted and called into the priesthood of all believers equipped to go and bring that light to a dark world waiting for good news.