For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 7:1-014; Psalm 24:1-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s reflection is from Elizabeth Sextro, a master’s student at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.
“We are told of meek obedience. No one mentions / courage.” -Denise Levertov, Annunciation
Deuteronomy states that if a woman in ancient Israel were to become pregnant out of wedlock, “the men of her town [should] stone her to death” (22:21). In the reading from Matthew’s gospel today, Mary’s community would likely assume that she had sex and became pregnant by another man, after already being betrothed to Joseph. Joseph is portrayed by Matthew as being a righteous man since he decided he would “divorce [Mary] quietly,” instead of exposing her as an adulterer.
We hear, however, very little about the woman in the story: no one speaks to Mary directly, no one asks her what happened, and certainly no one in her community would offer their support to her. Perhaps our reflection today could be to uplift the voice of the scared, confused, and ostracized thirteen-year-old girl who is told that she is to bear a son.
Approaching conversations about Mary tends to make me nervous. Historically, as Elizabeth Johnson reveals in her book Truly Our Sister, theologians and scholars have tended to strip Mary of her very humanity by turning her into a symbol. She is idealized as the “handmaid,” the virgin, the quintessential mother, and the ultimate model of femininity. Johnson’s project is to retrieve the person of Mary: the human being, just like you and me!
Our Gospel reading, however, does not reveal much about her. We know, of course, that Mary was Jesus’ mother. But before she was ever a mother, she was just a girl: a Jewish girl from Galilee, living in the village of Nazareth. Although Johnson gives us a much more complete picture of her historical life, I am fascinated by Mary’s incredible courage. To borrow from Denise Levertov, nobody ever talks about the fact that getting pregnant could have had her killed. We talk about a virgin, so meek and mild, but what of her courage?
So the story goes: an angel appeared to this young girl and asked her to be the one to bear the “Emmanuel,” meaning “God with us,” a very fitting wordplay since God would quite literally be within Mary. But we would be remiss to think of God becoming human without a price. Mary’s fiat, Mary’s “yes,” most likely turned her into a social pariah. Why would she agree to that?
I don’t want to idealize Mary for saying “yes”: I am with Johnson in that it is more theologically helpful to view her as our “sister.” Rather, I hope to say that Mary as an embodied woman experienced fear like the rest of us and responded to that fear with courage. God sometimes asks us to do things that are unpopular, that make us outcasts, that could figuratively stone us to death. Standing in solidarity with marginalized communities of people is a one-way ticket to being outcast, but isn’t this exactly what Jesus was all about? Jesus deeply loved and connected with the poor, the women, the lepers, the blind, the common people who had no power in society.
Mary sacrificed her social capital in order to bring God to us. God is “with us” as a human only because of Mary’s incredible courage. We need not idealize this courage or see it as unattainable. Rather, we have the opportunity to emulate it.
At a time in the United States when people of color, Muslims, women, people with disabilities, the poor, undocumented immigrants, and people of the LGBTQIA community are being specifically targeted, it is essential that we find the courage to speak out against injustice. Just as Mary’s courage brought God into the world, so too can our courage bring about change in unjust social systems. It is not so outlandish to suggest that we, too, are called to bring God into our social structures, which are often violent. Like Mary, we too are called to bring God into the world.
–Elizabeth Sextro, December 18, 2016
 Johnson, Elizabeth, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003), 22-36