Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Rest of the Story: Silencing Mary on Christmas Eve

It is Christmas Eve. I just put my son to sleep and the family is watching a movie in the living room. I am here writing because there is a deep feeling in my heart that as we go on celebrating Christmas year after year, there is a big part of the story that gets missed in evangelical churches—Mary’s.

My husband and I like to attend Christmas services wherever we are. Today we attended the one at his hometown in Wisconsin. The sermon was preceded by an all-so-hipster video of Mary; a song about the difficulties of her journey into becoming the mother of Jesus. As I watched this video I thought, “Finally someone will talk about Mary and the challenges she faced.” Harry, the pastor, began his reflexion by saying that when we celebrate ‘baby Jesus’ we forget about the rest of the story. “Is this for real?” I thought. “Will this White guy from the Church where every woman has an admin position an every dude is a pastor really talk about Mary?”

“We forget about the rest of the story,” he proceeded. “That this ‘baby’ Jesus didn’t stay a baby. He grew up to become a MAN. He became a judge, a king…” an so on. Mark Driscoll would have been so proud!

As I listened, feeding my 11-month-old son, I felt like throwing the milk bottle at “Pastor Harry.” Hadn’t this man ever given birth? Clearly he hadn’t. As I sat there, moved to tears by the silencing of the story of this courageous teenager who gave birth under the most lonely, poorest, shameful and scariest of circumstances, I felt that someone needed to, indeed, tell “the rest of the story.”

Due to the ‘santa clausification’ of this ‘Silent Night’ I never stopped to think about what actually happened that night until a couple of years ago: A teenager gave birth to a baby by herself, without her community or friends surrounding her, and under sub-human conditions. She gave birth at a barn. People who give birth at hospitals with epidurals, please think about this: A 15-year-old gave birth, BY HERSELF, AT A BARN. And she did it successfully!

So Pastor Harry, or anyone who believes that the story of baby Jesus is not as powerful as the story of the man who died on a cross, please think about what you are saying.

At the beginning of this year I had the honor to give birth to my son. After much thought, I decided to do it at home and without any medication so as to be fully connected to the glory of my body and the birth process as designed by God. I made this decision also because up to that point I did not know that giving birth naturally and at home was an option for women at all. Not knowing bothered me, so giving birth naturally became a political issue for me. As it was, giving birth was a revolutionary act. Under the full moon of a night in January, my husband and I partnered to bring our son to this world. Our midwife didn’t make it, so the three of us, my husband, our baby, and I, did it together. My active labor was fast; only seven contractions and my son was here. Through the contractions I was reborn; I received a new name. I learned things about myself that I didn’t know—That I was strong, that I could handle a lot of physical pain, that my body was wise beyond my understanding, that I was deeply loved and that I actually trusted my husband with my life. The story of my son’s birth was redemptive not only to me but also to our marriage. For someone who grew up under familial, religious and political systems who told me that I wasn’t enough, that experience empowered me to see God, myself, and my body in a completely different light.

After going through that experience there were things I couldn’t believe anymore. One of them was that God was a male. There was no way that God had designed the glory of the birth process without fully understanding it. I’m not saying that God is a woman, but I am saying that calling God a man (or a woman) is idolatry; it is the same than calling God a bird, a bull or a dog (see McGrath, 2006). Since that day, I am referring to God as “They.” God exists as the Trinity after all.

Another thing I cannot believe anymore is that Mary’s role in the coming of Jesus was just utilitarian. There was power (more than many can understand) in bringing our redeemer through a woman’s body. There was power in Mary's bravery, in her physical prowess, her sweat, and her screaming as she coped with labor pain. She did all of this while in a strange land, under conditions of abject poverty, and without any family or friends but Joseph to support her. There power in that vulnerability. There is power in the image of a baby born out of circumstances that were against all odd of succeeding. If “Pastor Harry” thought that a ‘baby Jesus’ was too cuddly for King Jesus, I’d invite him to think about that again.

Tonight I want to make a tribute to Mary, whose faithfulness and courage gave us the gift of seeing God's glory unravel. And with her I also want to make a tribute of all the women who have given birth. To my friend K. who has had the courage to accept life’s invitation to be a mother despite the fact of being single. With bravery she has surrendered to God's will and will give birth to her daughter in just a couple of weeks. To my friend C. who had the unbelievable courage to labor all night to give birth to a still-born baby, only to hope for resurrection to come sooner than she can ever wait to hug her baby. To my friend C.K., who has empowered not only me but many others to embrace the gift of giving birth to our sons and daughters the way God intended—using our bodies in their full glory.

My praise goes tonight to the God who reveals itself through the body of a teenager giving birth to our redeemer. To the God who doesn't rest in the boredom of certainty but who instead invites us to be faithful in the complexity of our bodies, our blood, our pain, our joy, and our grief. To God be the glory.