The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng
I've never written much about the issues of gender in the bible (last time was 3years ago here) but I'm thinking about it this advent for some reason. Women are quite integral to both the Christmas and Easter accounts but I'm not sure we have always given them enough credit or portrayed them in the best light.
"When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit."
In Luke chapter 1 we have a man being stopped from speaking (Zechariah) and two women who, after being filled with the holy spirit, start proclaiming good news all over the shop. (Luke 1:41-47). It's amazing to read that account of Mary and Elizabeth meeting. How their physical and definitively female bodies were moved by the holy spirit is quite special to read. And how they expressed their joy and their spiritual insight using deeply biblical and theological observation, especially as you read on to the Magnificat. Clearly the author had no problems with giving women a key role in the proclamation and preaching of the Good News.
"Some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus."
Also in Luke's final chapter (ch. 24) you have a number of reports of women proclaiming good news and men not believing them (women are especially emphasised here if you allow the couple on the road to Emmaus to be an actual couple, which makes a lot of sense). In this chapter Jesus is disappointed in those who were foolish and slow to believe in verse 25, but you'll notice that in verse 8 the clear implication is that the women listened, remembered and believed straight away. And then ran to tell the others. There seems to be an almost intentional divide through the text between men who were slow to believe and women who were quick to believe.
Now I'm not saying Luke has an overtly pro-women agenda throughout his gospel. But what I do see, as I read the Christmas story this year with one eye on the Easter story too, is a gospel message that has a specifically empowering role for women. They are blessed and chosen by God. They are pro-active decision makers, spirit-filled contemplative theologians, preachers of good news who are full of faith and quick to believe.
Is that how Mary and Elizabeth are portrayed in our advent retellings? I wonder how many speaking parts Mary has in the average kids Nativity play? In my memory of them you just usually have a lot of unspoken moments for Mary to treasure things in her heart.
"...But his mother treasured all these things in her heart."
But I'm not sure that this treasuring necessarily required passive silence. Thats probably something we've added into the story. I'd love to see a Mary on a stage at Christmas defiantly proclaiming the Magnificat! Calling to her Lord God to upturn the social systems, knock down the thrones of unjust rulers and give freedom and 'good things' to the poor and the oppressed. I'm picturing a sort of Braveheart or 'Robin hood prince of thieves' speech (you know, the "what do we need that the forest cannot provide" moment!)
I'd pay to see that.