Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Orthodox and Roman faith communities. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an important figure for the faith. Blessed Martin Luther had a special reverence for Mary, acknowledging her as the example of the saints because she willingly bore Christ into the world. Luther saw this as the model of Christian behavior and servitude. We are meant to bear Christ into the world.
The Greek word for “Christ-bearer” is Theotokos. On this day our Orthodox brothers and sisters honor her, or more rightly the Christ in her, with these words:
The Theotokos has been revealed on the earth in truth,
Proclaimed of old by the words of the prophets,
Foretold by the wise patriarchs,
And the company of the righteous.
She will exchange glad tiding with the honor of women:
Sarah, Rebecca, and glorious Hannah,
And Miriam, the sister of Moses.
All the ends of the earth shall rejoice with them,
Together with all of creation.
For God shall come to be born in the flesh,
Granting the world great mercy.
It is important to lift up the fact that the Biblical writers intentionally included women in the records of Jesus’ lineage. This might seem like a necessary thing to do in today’s mindset (after all, you cannot have human creation without male and female zygotes), but in the ancient world the male lineage is the one that matters. And yet Joseph is, at best, a supporting character in the stories of Jesus’ birth. Mary takes more central stage, the prelude to the Christ.
It does not seem accidental to me that the writers…no, more than that…that God made clear to have women play a central role in the history of salvation: Mary birthed Jesus, women first the first to see the resurrection, and women were the ones who most supported Paul in his missions. It seems that, if we’re to look at the models of discipleship given in Scripture, women, and Mary specifically, offer us clear examples.
So embrace images of Madonna and child, embrace your Mary figure clad in blue under the stable, and embrace the fact that you are to be like Mary, bearing Jesus for the world.
There’s good reason for her to be there.
Questions for reflection: What might be a way to honor the women in your life this Christmas in a special way? How can we lift up the role of women in the church?