As the pastor a local church it is common at this time of year to enjoy services relating to events surrounding the birth of Jesus, whether the children’s nativity or carols by candlelight.
I don’t know how many times I have read these passages from the Bible or heard them read and sermons given.
Last night I listened again to the well know Bible verses telling of Mary’s visit from the Angel Gabriel, Joseph hearing from the Lord, travelling together to Bethlehem and following the birth of Jesus receiving a visit from a group of shepherds and some Magi with interesting gifts.
I always love what is recorded as Mary’s response to being chosen by God for the task of giving birth and mothering Jesus. In Luke 1:38 (NRSV) we are told “Then Mary said, ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Mary heard this crazy message from God and without thinking through all the consequences simply said yes.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew says of Joseph, ” being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly” (Matthew 1:19, NRSV).
I have always heard how Joseph must have been a good man, he wasn’t going to disgrace Mary, he was going to take culturally acceptable action for the time and leave her, albeit in a gracious and kind way. However kind, gracious or caring, Joseph’s plan was still to abandon this young pregnant woman.
I’ll have to assume he didn’t believe what she said about the visit of the angel and this being God’s baby and God’s plan (hardly surprising as it’s a bit far fetched). God had to intervene and correct Joseph so that he would marry Mary and commit to being with her.
Today I join with many in celebrating that for the first time ever a woman has been appointed to the position of Bishop of London. It’s not that I am particularly excited by bishop’s generally but I am excited that women are finally breaking through the glass or the stained glass ceiling. Yet today in December 2017, almost 99 years to the day since women in the UK first voted in a General Election there is a rule that parishes and priests in a Diocese with a female bishop can circumvent this and have a male bishop from another diocese provide them with certain oversight. My own denomination is no better in practice (women will find it harder to be called to a church and are often offered lower financial support than male counterparts).
2000 years ago Mary said yes without question but Joseph wouldn’t accept the words of a woman and needed further clarification from God. Today our society still makes women second class citizens and rather than leading the way to reformation, equality and justice the Church makes its excuses and alternative arrangements.
Men and women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27 NRSV). None are over or above the other. God can speak to whom and through whom God choses and God frequently chooses those who humankind least expect.
Like Joseph the Church is often righteous and doesn’t want to cause public disgrace but sometimes God has a different plan. Thank God for women like Mary and Rt Revd Sarah Mullally who listen to God and not man and by doing so change the course of history for others.