Christmas Day: Women and Religion

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.

feminism_fair_enidePart 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.

Advent, Week Four: O, Holy Night

Merry Christmas Eve, Reader!  It’s actually been a bit busy here at work today, which is a marked change from last year.  I like it, though; it’s fun to pretend to be Bob Cratchit for a while, especially since I have no Scrooge here in the office with me.

It doesn’t feel real that it’s Christmas Eve; it’s raining here in the Land of Pilgrims, raining rather than snowing.  I am, as is increasingly the case for this holiday, not at all ready.  My gifts aren’t done, I’m not completely sure about the readings I’m doing for the services at church tonight, I owe Watchful a pair of poems that are still crunched up in my head and won’t allow me to untangle them yet, my personal life is kind of a mess at the moment, I don’t know what to do for a friend whose sister just died yesterday.  I’m not ready for Christmas.

But it never seems to listen; the remembrance of that Child’s birth comes ’round every year whether I will or no, and every year it quiets me as it whispers “just be here.”  Chirstmas, for me, is not tomorow—sure, the gift-giving and the holiday meal and the family time is fine and good and festive, but Christmas for me is tonight.  Christmas is awkwardly being part of someone else’s family for dinner because they welcome me; it is realizing that my reading and my singing don’t have to be perfect because God will use whatever I can give; it is the moment at the end of the service when we lift our candles to the heavens and sing together; it is walking out after the last service and standing in the chill after the heat of so many people and realizing it’s really Christmas because it’s after midnight.

It is holy.

That’s not to say that tomorrow isn’t, but it is to say that when we sing of a holy night, I’m thinking of this one.  So I sit here at my computer and listen to this song over and over in so many different versions and then—oh, Reader, then I see the lyrics.

Whoa.

Moving past the “sin and error pining” bit for a second, although that’s a pretty weighty theological statement of its own, I get stuck on the fourth line:  “‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.”

Perhaps it is just me that gets caught in the places of feeling less than, especially in this season that demands you have more Stuff/Family/Love/Peace/Joy/Hope/Money/Whatever, but I doubt it.  I love this season, I do; Advent is my favorite part of the year, and Christmas is far and away my favorite holiday.  But especially this year, I have been carrying a lot of, well, shit, to put it bluntly, and bending under the weight of it.  It has resulted in a lot of not feeling like I’m worth much, which I know Magister and Watchful and Hopeful and even Interpreter himself, if he read this, would tell me is bollocks.  But only you know yourself, and sometimes what you know makes you shudder.

Except it’s not only you who knows you.  God knows you—knows me, knows everything that I am and will be and have been—and still He came to break chains and teach love and be, simply be in all the crazy difficulty that is living as a human.  In Him I have worth, regardless of what I am so sure that I know.

We don’t much do kneeling in our modern age; we’re old, our joints ache, it’s embarrassing, what if the carpet messes up our trousers.  But I have known, Reader, the moments where the space between Heaven and Earth is so thin that you simply can’t remain standing.  You actually do fall to your knees (which hurts, I won’t lie) under the breath-taking “thrill of hope.”  Some of the moments of holiness I’ve experienced have left me gasping for the thicker air on the level where I usually dwell, the very cords of my muscles thrumming to a song I could not hear with my ears even were they whole.  It’s an exhausting thing, being in the presence of holiness.  I don’t recommend doing it often—but I do recommend letting it happen at least once.

“He knows our need; to our weakness is no stranger,” the song continues.  This is a baby we welcome tonight and tomorrow—babies know nothing, not even how to see.  Their worlds are nothing but weakness; they don’t yet know that there is anything else.  But this Baby?  This Child?  It is God in flesh, not trapped but intensified, vivifying His own creation by engaging it fully.  Through having lived that life He not only knows our need, He knows it, understands it, has felt it.  The concept of a physically connected God is kind of mind-blowing, really.  So when we gather tonight and sing of and to this Child, we kneel—maybe not physically, but in our hearts, because this is a holy night.  This is a holy event.  This is a holy memory.

How divine.

Merry Christmas, Reader.  I’ll see you in the new year.

 

[Joseph] went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  (Luke 2:5-6a, NIV)