“Christmas is not about Mary; it’s about Jesus. Yet, I am still of the opinion that, during Christmas, Mary should feature more in our preaching, hymnology and theology, than she currently does.”
THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY
Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts examines Mary’s role in the life of her Son, Jesus, and explores the lessons she teaches us about the role women should play in the Church and wider society
Consumerism now drives Christmas, providing opportunities for retailers to promote and sell their ample products.
Years ago, Jesus was at the heart of Christmas. There was no shame attached to Jesus being at the centre of our festival, His message and face proudly paraded on Christmas cards, souvenirs and symbols. What lies behind this change in emphasis? The reasons vary from living in a multi-faith, multicultural society; secularism; diminishing respect for the sacred, and a societal disregard for Jesus. That Jesus is the Son of God, whose mother was Mary and whose father was Joseph, is no longer a fact that the majority UK populace are aware of or interested in.
What about Mary, the mother of Jesus? She, who features a little in His and her own story; this is a shame. Mary carried God; she was not God. She was as human as the rest of us, and rightly played second fiddle to the Word becoming flesh.
Christmas is not about Mary; it’s about Jesus of Nazareth, the God-Man, Saviour of the world. Yet, I am still of the opinion that, during Christmas, Mary should feature more in our preaching, hymnology and theology, than she currently does. Let me explain why. The heart of Jesus was possibly formed on the pattern of the heart of His mother. ‘He worked with human hands; thought with a human mind; acted with a human will; loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin.’
Mary possibly taught her Son much: His gentle, caring, compassionate attributes; His loathing of injustice, and profound empathy for those on the margins. I am sure, He learnt from His mother, who was herself the embodiment of love and kindness. Because she turned her heart entirely to the Father, she could so easily become for her Son the representative of the Father’s will. Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding (John 2:1-11). It is Mary, the mother of God, who presents the request to her Son, “They have no more wine.”
The Gospel writers do not write a lot about Mary, which I find interesting. However, here lies the paradox: Mary was ordinary, but she was also extraordinary. This ordinary person was chosen to participate in the most sacred of experiences. She didn’t just give birth to the Saviour of the world, but also nurtured and prepared the Saviour for His suffering and subsequent death on the cross. This was no small feat for no small person. Yet, despite her unique contribution, the Gospel writers give us just a little glimpse into who she was and what she did. Her contribution cannot be compared. It was unprecedented, indeed, extraordinary, but the Gospel writers, some argue, play it down. Was this because she was a woman, and the Gospels were written by men? Or was her limited visibility in the Gospel narrative a reflection of the lowly role ancient women played in a male-dominated society?
Whatever the reasons, 2000 years on, Mary’s situation is paralleled by many African and Caribbean women. Their herculean contributions, 2000 years on, still undermined. Two thousand years on, their voices dwarfed by men’s. Two thousand years on, women in proportionate positions in the workplace yield disproportionate salaries when compared with the opposite sex.
Dame Helen Ghosh, who recently retired as Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, apparently suggested that the Prime Minister had surrounded himself with old friends from school and university, to the exclusion of women. Whether Dame Helen Ghosh made these comments or not, the facts remain that, with men outnumbering women four to one in the Cabinet, it is clear that many government policies continue to be created in the image of pale men, and that the default response of politics and similar fields is to silence the voice of women, unwittingly or otherwise. This suggests that two thousand years on, limited progress has been made in some areas of equality and freedom which, as irony would have it, is what the Christmas story is about.
Far too often, the glorious contributions of women are overshadowed by a lesser contribution by men. Look at Martin Luther King Jr. A global icon, ennobled by millions the world over for his leadership and commitment to the rights of Black people. Yet Rosa Parks, without whom Martin Luther King Jr may not have been catapulted to the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, fades into oblivion when compared with King’s input.
Christmas’ central theme is that of justice. The arrival of the Son of God challenges Rome’s self-appointed son of God, Herod’s adopted son. His coming brings disquiet to the powers of Rome; disturbs the Roman rulers, and demands a kingdom that is fair and for all, the haves and the have-nots. The Gospel story is also about the balancing of imbalanced power relationships; franchising the disenfranchised; demonstrating a practical commitment to the many Marys in this world: women of colour, whose voices, like Mary’s, have been lost or diminished in translation. Christmas demands that we redress this imbalance by voluntarily relinquishing positions of power and status for women like Mary, whose contributions should be given their rightful place in human history, now and always.
Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Racial Justice Coordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain