O Christmas Christ
Born of a woman’s body, fed at a woman’s breast
Teach us to build a church and a world
Where women’s bodies are not violated
women’s courage is honoured
women’s gifts are welcomed
So that all humanity may rejoice in the good news of your birth.
Once again the crib set is unpacked and the figure of Mary is placed in the stable with Joseph and the animals, the tiny baby hidden away to appear on Christmas day. Years ago on a trip to Walsingham I tried to find a statue of the pregnant Mary, that incredible advent symbol of expectancy. There were none to be had. I have one beautifully illustrated Christmas book by Jane Ray where Mary is shown heavy with child and where once born the child feeds at full breast but this is unusual. This feast of the incarnation, the taking on of human fleshly reality by God, seems to shy away from the fleshly reality of the woman’s body that was a chosen part of God’s redemptive plan.
Caroline Walker Bynum’s book Holy Feast Holy Fast (1987) discusses the way some medieval Christians viewed Jesus body. They took the virgin birth literally and therefore logically concluded that Jesus body was made of Mary’s flesh. Thus, although Jesus was clearly male, his flesh was female which also made sense of the fact that it was life giving and capable of feeding his children. The incarnation hallowed female flesh.
Women’s flesh is good and Godly. In a world where women still face sexual violence, harassment and discrimination we need to campaign for justice. Gender justice is championed by those organisations, such as Christian Aid, working to alleviate poverty in our world. Where women are treated properly, educated and respected the life chances for all are enhanced.
In a church where women’s bodies are still considered unsuitable, by some, to represent Christ at the altar or speak with his authority, we need to work for genuine inclusion. We should be setting an example to the world in the respect given to women. I long for a church in which the gender of a priest or bishop is incidental. I long for a church in which a good number of women are part of the decision making at all levels.
Mary’s child Jesus was and is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus coming was and is good news. We need a church that can communicate that good news to the women of the world in terms that truly enables them to flourish. We need to challenge all that diminishes women and work for a world in which men’s and women’s bodies are treated with respect.