Misogyny, Empathy and Contradiction, Third Sunday of Advent 11 Dec 2016

sassoferrato-madonna-detail-featuredMisogyny, Empathy and Contradiction
Westmount Park United Church – Sunday 11 December 2016
Third Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Luke 1:46b-55

The season of Christmas social gatherings has begun.  I have been to three already. It struck me that the readings for this season are as regular as all the festivities, and in fact easy to take for granted, unless we wait, unless we observe their effects upon us, like in the spirit of this season, we have a feast to savour, and when I did that, I found three ingredients.

A sharp and bitter start, an edifying centre and a teasing length.
Misogyny that is bitter
Empathy is  edifying
Contradiction more teasing

Luke is the only gospel of our four authorised accounts of the life of Jesus to tell us about this declaration of his mother Mary, to give us this Magnificat.   Some find a parallel with a certain prophetess Hanna and it is important to realise how women play vital roles in the history of the people of God: the Bible is unashamed however to tell a grim story of inequality and violence towards women that has led many people, men as well as women to abandon any respect for its teachings: its too negative.  Misogyny, the hating of women is without doubt a heavy shadow that makes the light of Mary’s declaration all the more surprising and powerful.

If I believed this hatred of women, fitted how ‘God’ is, through my own use of the Bible then I would have left Christianity long ago; to the contrary, I find God is with Mary as with women in general, finding Grace, finding Love and Goodness, and Luke makes it up front and central.   Yet……..if I can go to the Vatican Treasury and find this story teller Luke who is so much on the side of the poor, the shepherds not the wise men, gets his skull made into a priceless treasure covered with gold, then we realise the history of the Church, falls far short of God’s expectations.  So too misogyny comes back.  Mary gets hijacked.

Let me read you a commentary on this extraordinary Magnificat by Nancy Rockwell, titled No More Lies about Mary,
It’s Advent, and the same old lies about Mary are slipping over pulpits and out of parish letters, Christmas cards, public prayers, TV holiday movies, and late night comics’ jokes.
The subjugation of Mary, the maligning of her as meek, mild, and mindless, has been harmful to millions of women over many centuries.   Hiding within the wonder of Christmas are a thousand years of doctrinal female subjugation, doctrines that, like tinsel, are dripped all over the season of Christmas. In the midst of the celebration of Wonderful Life, these malicious ideas keep women from feeling empowered, invited to be strong, and urged by God to imagine new ways to live, as Mary of Nazareth did, who mothered God’s redemption of the human world.

I had not read this commentary, before I got that bitter taste of misogyny, it came to me from within, or rather, from my memory of Mary’s popularity.   I was taught about church history at the University of Cambridge especially the period of 1800 onwards in Europe and learnt that there was a declaration by Pope Pius 9th of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in 1895. Here is what another theologian Rosemary Reuther has to say.  This promotion of Marian piety represented a cultural counter-attack by Catholicism against what were perceived as the anti-Christian forces of secularism, rationalism republicanism and communism.’

This secularism, included equality of the sexes, because as we can still see, women are not equal to men in Catholic and Orthodox practice and many Protestant churches too.   Remember the statue at Ottawa, ‘Women are persons’ shocking that this is remembering Five Albertan Women who had to fight for the votes of all, winning in 1929.  We forget you see how recent it is that there is legal equality and access to voting for women.

Sad too to be able to make the cheap gibe, the American Republicans don’t seem too much bothered about women’s dignity either in 2016! The Catholic strategy to give a more prominent place to Mary was an attempt to acknowledge the rising appreciation of the feminine and at the same time domesticate it.

There’s a bitter taste here, to wake us up, to failure and falsity and demand more.

I do not think Luke was a woman, but the thought came to me when I asked myself how is it that he gives women such prominence and value, not just Mary, there is Elisabeth her cousin, Mary Magdelene, Mary and Martha, the woman spared from stoning, the women at the cross the women at the tomb.

Luke the gospel teller, tells us that the angel Gabriel greets Mary ‘Hail O favoured one, the Lord is with you!’.   He imagines this scene with the audacity to enter into the activity of God and the mother of Jesus Christ.  Luke exercises above all, an empathy with the people who lived through this greatest story, and he gives this to us, this is the overwhelming power and flavour of the Advent Season, empathy, and we get it, and whenever artists attempt to tell the Christmas story too, they get this empathy.  Look at the crèche and this empathy, entering into the feelings and the experience of the other, is undeniable.  This is why Christmas works every year.  This is why every year may be your year if you have not discovered Jesus Christ born in your heart, with a message of Grace, like the message given to Mary, provoking disturbance, angst, and boldness to say YES to God.

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Waiting for God in Advent, is a giving space and time for this Empathy to grow in us, for our lives, for the call of God to be heard by us, for authenticity in following Jesus Christ. Now as soon as this comes, this Empathy, a flavour that is delicious to savour, that fills us up and strengthens us, with warmth and wholeness, there begins another; it is a little critical voice that becomes a roaring wind, of Contradiction.

Luke put this in the story in the first place, with this choice by Mary, a displaced woman who knew Joseph could not be the father………God is contradicting biology or so it seems, and so it will continue. Contradiction both good and bad, the bad in the way, Luke, Mary and Jesus have all been taken over in cultural and historical ways, to make a golden skull, to control women’s yearning for equality, to justify crusades, racism and even slavery…..

Good in the way contradiction is the activity of God, in human affairs, so in Latin American Theology, Mary has emerged in new ways, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico, represents the Indian people.  Then a 1979 declaration of Latin American Bishops emphasised the Magnificat as the key text for understanding Mary as an archetype of the church.  Mary represents God’s preferential option for the poor,  She is the oppressed of the worlds to whom God brings justice in Christ by putting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the humble.

Luke will be pleased. This Advent therefore:

taste the bitterness of misogyny to wake you up from false peace,
enter into empathy to grow in Grace,
hear the contradiction to go forward,
with Christ in your heart and your feet.
this use of Mary, is to defend Church being male dominated.

Trump language, shocking yet really all this is new, women are persons, just look at the struggle for women to vote. Discussions about rights to life, what to wear, still come from inequality,

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception states that from the first moment of her existence Mary was without original sin.[55] This doctrine was proclaimed a dogma ex cathedra by Pope Pius IX in 1854. The dogma of the Assumption of Mary, defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950, states that, at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed into heavenly glory body and soul.[56]

What is going on in the story, a discovery of empathy, recognition of the experience of the other, That God takes frail flesh and dies, empathy is not sympathy.

Our better angels says that empathy is part of it Joanna Macey that empathy is the crucial ingredient, to move from Industrial Growth Society. Hence the crib makes sense, speaks, wonder, enter in to the story, as a story that has truth.How fragile this is, Contradicted by……in present terms,
Yet it was so very fragile, in birth, in waiting,
Practice of waiting in empathy for human life to reflect that which we call God.