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God’s love for women is celebrated in the Advent story

abortion debate advent church empathy equality grace podcast Dec 21, 2023
Mary Consoles Eve by Sister Grace Remington a Cistercian sister at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in Iowa

“Because I interact every day with young female students who, sometimes in tears, ask this same question: “Do I belong in Christianity? This faith seems like it's for the guys. Where do I fit?” I was motivated by my own intellectual interest and also my deep concern to say to those young women, ‘You belong here.’ I needed the Biblical support to say that with power.”

-Dr. Amy Peeler,  author of “Women and the Gender of God,” and Kenneth T. Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College

Advent season is here, bringing beauty and tradition that so many look forward to throughout the year. The story and accompanying traditions are familiar and comforting. Perhaps in our familiarity, we fail to recognize aspects of the singularity of the Advent story. Do we fully recognize all the hope it offers humanity? Specifically for women, who can feel left out of the narrative of Christianity, Advent reminds us of the love and importance that God has always placed on women. 

Why do some of us feel left out?

To some people, Christianity feels male-dominant. Christians worship a triune God, who is, at least in two forms, referred to by masculine names and pronouns. The creation story can leave some women feeling left out or undervalued, and the Adam and Eve narrative, when not properly understood, can be interpreted to place all of the blame on Eve. While not all women interpret their reading of Scripture to have a diminished role for women, some do. These feelings contribute to the difficulty we have communicating across gender lines. Angela sat down to discuss these realities with Dr. Amy Peeler, Episcopal Priest, Kenneth T. Wessner Bible Chair of Wheaton College, and author of books including Women and the Gender of God. As a Biblical scholar, Dr. Peeler has studied the Scriptural foundation for these assertions and urged that we use Scripture as our common ground to examine them. What does the Bible say about women, and God’s value for them?

How is God’s value for women shown in the Advent story?

In many religious traditions, gods do as they please, which often means taking what they want or need from humans without their consent. When Luke wrote his gospel, he would have been familiar with this perception in his culture, so he was intentional in describing the way God sought the consent of Mary before the incarnation. She is given the choice rather than coerced. It was important to God that His people would see him accurately. He seeks our love, and authentic love requires knowing His true character and the freedom to respond to Him. Christians from different denominations agree that Mary was asked to accept the plan before the incarnation, a beautiful place of common ground.

By God’s choice, He made Mary a necessary part of Advent, which makes her a necessary part of how salvation unfolds. God could have chosen any way to bring His son into the world, and he specifically chose for a woman to carry Jesus as a baby and give birth to him.

If our Lord, who can do all things, chose to use a woman to bring His salvation, we should not diminish the importance of the role of Mary and all women in God’s plan. 

Mary was not only called to sacrifice physically; she was called to use her mind to teach Jesus, as well. In Jesus’ obedience to his mother, we see further evidence of the importance of women to God. This is something to celebrate and unite around. God can bring healing to the gender divide through His truth. Through the Bible, we can reinforce the equal value of all human life that God intended.

How do we apply this to the unintended pregnancy and abortion debate?

 First, we must acknowledge that this story, which is so important to us as Christians, centers around an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant. Mary has no assurances when approached by Gabriel and is given the choice to participate in God’s plan. As an unwed woman, she could have been ostracized, abandoned by her intended spouse, and even stoned to death. Mary is in a dangerous situation. The story teaches us to be compassionate to those whom we may be tempted to judge or disparage today. 

“We know we should be compassionate, but not just in a general way. We should be compassionate because this is our story, which we follow; this is our Lord’s story.” (Dr. Amy Peeler, Episode 8). 

Our compassion allows us to hold a complex theological view. If we are to have compassion for both the life of the child and the life of the woman in an unintended pregnancy, we cannot compromise on the agency of the woman; in fact, God did not. He can do all things, and yet He asked Mary’s permission and respected her agency. This is another place we can find common ground, even when our opinions on abortion differ.  God demonstrates that empathy requires us to remain focused on grace rather than asserting our will over another person. 

Holding a complex theological view can seem complicated in our polarizing and divisive culture, which constantly asks us to choose “a side.” Primarily by identifying with political parties or movements. In reality, these human constructs do little to identify us as God’s people and less to promote unity amongst ourselves. This is where curiosity and listening have an important place. We need to be able to have these difficult conversations fairly while listening to what the other person has to say. We need to be open to learning and growing. We need to learn to feel comfortable sitting in the uncertainty. 

We can learn to love those we disagree with without trying to force our will on them if we follow God’s example. Unfortunately, it can feel very lonely in this place of uncertainty, which makes a ProGrace approach necessary.  We seek to build a community of like-minded people who want to put the well-being of people above politics. We want to become a grace-centered community where people feel safe approaching Christians for support - so that God can create pathways of hope for them. We can find unity amongst ourselves in the Biblical importance of all people. We can reject the loud voices calling us toward more division and enmity. We can be the light this holiday season and always.

If you were inspired by this post, consider donating to support this work. 

*The artwork featured in this post is by Sister Grace Remington of Our Lady of the Mississippi Monastery in Iowa. It is available for purchase here.

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