Beloved: what if we have missed the point, or at least missed A point, for thousands of years? What if this story, this Christmas story, isn’t really about a baby? What if this isn’t just the story about the baby—this new life that comes to live out love in the flesh, this one who is as God made all humanity to be —fully human and completely enmeshed with divinity—but what if this story is really meant to be first known as the story of the mother. Mary’s story.
This woman, this Mary, who knew and accepted that the Spirit of the Lord was upon her. I mean, just stop there. Imagine what this means—she knew the Spirit of the Lord was upon her. Think about what her heart and mind was like—what kind of relationship she had with the Holy One—to hear and trust that, yes, the Spirit of the Lord has anointed her, appointed her, to be the One to birth Love in the flesh into the world. She would be the one whose labor would initiate the start of a new world, not just a life—but new life for all of Creation.
Mary’s story tells us of a woman who is told that if she says yes, there will be both glory and agony, joy and great sorrow, that she will have to risk her entire being—literally risk life and limb, not to mention reputation and security—-and this young woman says yes anyway. Knowing all this, she opens her heart, her mind, her body and spirit to the wholeness, the entirety of this Yes. Yes, God. Yes Love As You would have it. Talk about living love in the flesh.
And the beauty of this woman’s yes to the Spirit—the glory of her yes—causes her to sing the Truth that she can now see, the truth she now knows and believes. The God-honest Truth that when human flesh is infused with love it has the power and capacity to topple fear, hatred and self-centeredness. Humanity which surrenders to love has the power and might to overthrow any empire, every tyranny and all evil that sways and seduces us away from love.
Beloved, this Jesus story that we have come to adore, and much to God’s disappointment—worship, this Jesus story can only happen because this woman—this unmarried, young woman—because she says yes. The Magnificat reversal of our world, from self-centered individualism, which catapults us into warfare and bloodshed, to communal working for the common good, which brings us on earth peace and goodwill for all humanity, this reversal is dependent upon a woman. In a patriarchal society. A woman. Which begs the question: How can we continue to ground and center ourselves in a male-centric world when God, when Love itself, refused to do so?
Beloved, what if we took this origin story of ours, this genesis story of a new beginning, the arrival of a new life all because a woman said yes—what if we took it seriously? If we begin to recognize that this yes has the power to change everything. What if we believed that? If we trusted it, expected it, bet our life on it? What if the Magnificat becomes our anthem?
And let’s not forget that Joseph plays an important role too. Joseph, this man in a patriarchal culture, he wakes up to the reality that he must live counter-culturally as a man in his society in order to support Love, to give Love free reign in his household. Knowing that the world will probably call him weak and snicker and gossip when he leaves the room. After all, he is a man who has placed the needs and the story of a woman before his own, submitting himself, and his life, to his wife’s God-given call. He willingly paves a path for Love with his very life.
Back in the 1960s and 70s the Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church were both debating whether or not to ordain women. The Lutheran Church began ordaining women in 1970. But it took us Episcopalians a bit longer. In fact, we didn’t ordain women until 1976. But in 1974, 11 women were unofficially ordained as priests in Philadelphia by three retired bishops. The women became known as the Philadelphia 11; one of them was named Alla Renee Bozarth. Alla wrote a beautiful poem entitled: “Before Jesus–Mary, the Protopriest of the New Covenant.” It goes like this:
Before Jesus, was his mother.
Before supper in the upper room,
breakfast in the barn.
Before the Passover Feast, a feeding trough.
And here, the altar of Earth, fair linens of hay and seed.
Before his cry, her cry.
Before his sweat of blood, her bleeding and tears.
Before his offering, hers.
Before the breaking of bread and death,
the breaking of her body in birth.
Before the offering cup,
the offering of her breast.
Before his blood, her blood.
And by her body and blood alone,
his body and blood and whole human being.
The wise ones knelt to hear
the woman’s word in wonder.
Holding up her sacred child,
her spark of God in the form of a babe,
she said: “Receive and let your hearts be healed
and your lives be filled with love, for
This is my body, This is my blood.”
Beloved: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.