Friday, December 24, 2010

The Virgin Mary and the Justice of God

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate the birth of Christ.  We don't know when this took place, and while Matthew and Luke name Bethlehem, only they amongst the New Testament writers speak of Christ's birth.  In both Matthew and Luke, a central figure is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is said to be a virgin.  Now, as I mentioned earlier today, this is a concept difficult for moderns to deal with.  But as Barth notes in his writings, maybe there's more to this than our moderns are willing to affirm.

In fact, maybe this concept has signficant implications for social justice.  As Brian, one of our regular commenters noted, a little over a week ago Rita Nakashima Brock, a Disciple and a leading feminist theologian, lifted up the doctrine, noting its social/political implications.  In a Huffington Post essay published December 14th, but pertinent for tonight, she writes:
 Actually, it is quite possible as a Christian to believe Jesus had a biological father and believe the story of the virgin conception says something important. It all depends on what you think "virgin" means. I think the most significant meaning of Mary's virginity is Christian resistance to the oppression of the Roman Empire.
But if we are to affirm this idea, then we're going to have to let some of our cherished ideas go and see this doctrine in new light. Part of this rethinking requires us to take into consideration what the title given to Mary as a result of the Chalcedon -- Theotokos -- Mother of God. So, she goes on to write:

Unfortunately, Mary's virginity has been domesticated, as if the point was her innocent chastity or lack thereof, which cost the sponsors of the dueling billboards about twenty grand each. Artist Rich Doty's "logos" of the season, below, capture layers of irony around the domestication and commercialization of a story that is pretty revolutionary, if you think about it a bit. 
It signals a new model of human relationships built on justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, protection for those endangered by violence, and God's favor on those whom none of the mighty would expect to have any power to do remarkable things for the good of others.  

We might describe the story of Mary as a powerful rejection of patriarchal family systems and imperial powers that oppress everyone subject to them. By blessing her and trusting her with the Spirit in human flesh, God challenges the rich, proud, and haughty, which means those who love her story and follow Jesus ought to be doing the same.
I invite you to ponder the mystery of God that is contained in the confession contained in the Apostles Creed: "Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary," as you celebrate this Christmas season.





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