His Story is Her Story

I am fascinated by family traditions around Christmas decorations. For example, In my family my brother’s birthday is Dec 15 and he insists that the Christmas tree be up for his birthday, so all the presents under the tree are for him at least once a year. But I have a friend whose birthday is also early December and they refuse to even talk about Christmas until after their birthday: “It’s two different holidays.” Which I get because my birthday is Feb 7 and every person I have ever dated has tried to combine it with Valentine’s day “TWO different holidays.” Okay rant over. But there are so many other decoration rules I’ve heard. Raise your hand if you have a rule, or tradition, about when Christmas decorations go up? (comment online, ask a few) How about when they come down? (ask a few) boxing day, epiphany, stock show, till it warms up.

Isn’t it fascinating how many different traditions exist even among just this gathering?

I think this draw to create traditions around seasonal decor is an effort we all make to mark special moments. We want each celebration to have its own time and space so we hold off putting things up or delay putting things away to hold onto special moments.

I haven’t found the right pacing for my Christmas decor. For me, The transition from Christmas to Easter has always felt jarring. The time between baby Jesus and ashes is never enough time to take in the brilliance of God’s entry among us. The attention to detail God gives to the moment of becoming human astonishes me every time I read through the gospels. There are so many little moments that get left out as we journey through the greatest hits. We only have so much time and we want to hear about the angels, and dreams, the nativity, and magi and before we know it the calendar says it’s Ash Wednesday. I don’t want to alarm anyone, Louise, are you sitting down? Ash Wednesday is in 10 days.

I know I’m sorry I had to mention it, but I did because I don’t want us to move onto the next part until I point something out to you that changed the way I saw the Christmas story this year, And I suspect it is going to impact the way I engage with lent and easter too. I’ll tell you how the realization came about in my life.

Just before Christmas I posted a video about God “Emmanuel” God in flesh and the birth of Jesus. Someone commented that “it would have been so impactful if God had come as a woman would have made a clear statement and improved the lives of women from that point on.” I have heard this kind of critique before and I engaged the conversation by saying “blah blah blah man, ……..” the comment back was “just in that time” We laughed together in the comments and it was one of the nicer interactions I get to have with strangers on the internet.

But even though I had heard this kind of comment before, the idea of a female messiah would not let me go. That next Tuesday Our Tapestry was doing a Bible Study about Old Testament prophets and someone asked “were there any female prophets.” I immediately thought of Anna in our story today but I knew they meant in the OT and I had to really wrack my brain to remember any names. They are there, but we don’t get a ton of information about them, refer back to my answer about why God didn’t come as a woman as to why we don’t know a ton about female prophets.

There it was again. This question about where the female roles were and why they aren’t lifted up with as much detail as our forefathers. I’m not saying the male stories do not deserve the detail they have, we need those stories AND it would be great to have the stories of women and gender nonconforming folk told in similar ways.

Then I saw a post that said “Don’t forget that the story of Jesus begins with two women praising God and rejoicing about the impending downfall of an empire” (brain blown)

The post refers to Mary’s time visiting Elizabeth and the words of Mary’s prayer which we call the Magnificent. In it Mary does praise God for the blessings she has received and then she says that God scatters the proud, sends the rich away empty, and brings down the powerful from their thrones. She rejoices over the impending downfall of an empire and the total upheaval of the social structure. You can blame it on the hormones but that is a boss prayer by any standard.

This made me realize that Jesus was surrounded by mighty women as we grew up. There is no way he didn’t hear those kinds of prayers often from his mother and aunt. And they must have had female examples around them to make them bold enough to speak such prayers. Which led me to Jesus’ genealogy.

Matthew lists 5 women in his genealogy. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Listing women in a genealogy is a statement on its own. We don’t see this happening in other genealogies given in scripture. But it is especially surprising because of who these women were. There are all sexual deviants! Well in the traditional understanding of their stories anyway.

Tamar was denied her rights when her husband died and his family did not take care of her as a widow. She knew the law well enough to know she had been wronged and found a way to get justice, by presenting herself as a sex worker to her father-in-law so she would become pregnant with an heir to the family. Bold women for sure.

Then we have Rahab, another sex worker who owned an “Inn ”, probably a prothel. She is a foreigner on top of that but she helps the Israelites and marries into the community. Bold woman #2

Ruth, another foreigner who knows the law better than most. Loyal to the family she married into and finds a way to care for her mother-in-law and continue the family blood line. Another check for Bold women

Bathsheba, oh my talk about a woman who has gotten a bad reputation for doing literally nothing except being pretty and having the audacity to take a bath. Traditionally her story goes something like she seduced King David forcing him to have her husband killed so she could marry and become queen. Read 2 Samuel 11, 12; 1 Kings 1, 2 again and you will see that she took a bath on her rooftop, which was the norm of the time so the sun could heat the water, David peeps from his lofty castle tower which he could have looked away super easily but doesn’t. And Bathsheba’s life is sent into a spiraling chaos because of David’s actions. I should move on because I will rant all day about this. Either telling she is a Bold Woman to either seduce a king or graciously accept what the actions of others were putting her through.

And finally we have Mary, an unwed woman who gets pregnant and says it was God. Bold beyond Bold.

We don;t know what the communal reputations of these women were when Matthew wrote them into Jesus’ story but we can be sure there were whispers and at least conflicting narratives circling. There were not the perfectly upstanding women one would proudly declare as family and yet here they are as the opening the how Matthew feels called to tell Jesus’ story.

The stories of women don’t stop when Jesus is born. Today we heard about Anna, a prophet who spent the last years of her life fasting and praying for the messiah who would be Jerusalem’s redemption. We have Mary Magdalene, the sisters Mary and Martha,

Herodias, Salome, Joanna, Susana, Sapphira, Candance, Tabitha, Rhoda, Eunice, Lois, Lydia, Damaris, Priscilla, Drusilla, Bernice, Phebe, Junia. Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, Chloe, Euodia, Sientyche, Claudia, Apphia, Nympha-ah, and those are just the ones we have names for. I have a print out 4 pages long of all the women mentioned in Jesus’ story.

In a time where women were not given voice a whole lot of them made it into Jesus’ story. The forces of culture probably wanted to limit their inclusion, we know of at least two of them whose names were changed to male names for a few centuries but when the dead sea scrolls were found they were finally put back into the story as women.

But despite all the forces against their story being recorded those stories got to us. And the only way I can think of that that happened was because a greater force insisted they be included.

Women were a huge part of Jesus’ story and ministry success. They funded the ministry, they traveled and cared for the masses, they followed Jesus all the way to the cross and stayed the longest as he died. Women were so important to Jesus that Jesus picked a woman to be the first to witness his resurrection. A woman was the first to proclaim Jesus is risen.

We may have not gotten a female messiah but our male savior did everything in his power to make sure his story included her story.

As we put away the Christmas decor and wrap up the Christmas stories, let’s include a tradition of holding space and time to tell the stories of everyone. This lent, this easter, this year, let’s look for and embrace the stories that get overshadowed by the greatest hits. Let’s be curious about the stories we don’t recall easily and wonder about the experiences that get only one verse.

Whether this is the first time you are hearing Jesus’ story or you could tell it beginning to end without any prompting there is more here to explore. Don’t let this Christmas season pass without finding a new name and intentionally walk into this next season with curiosity and wonder.

Mary (Matt 1:16, 18-25; 2-11, 13-14, 20-21; Matt 12:46-50; Matt 13:55; Mark 3: 31-35; Mark 6:3; Luke 1:26-56; 2:5-8, 16, 19, 22, 27, 34-35, 43-51; Luke 8: 19-20; John 2:1-5, 12; 6:42; John 19:25-27; Acts 1:14; Gal 4:4)

Peter’s Mother-in-law (Matt 8:14-15; Mark 1:30-31; Luke 4:38-39)

Daughter of Jarius (Matt 9: 18-19, 23-26; Mark 5: 22-24, 35-43; Luke 8:41, 49-56)

Wife of Jarius ( Mark 5:40-43; Luke 8:51-56)

Woman with Issue of Blood (Matt 9: 20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48)

Christ’s Sisters (Matt 13:56; Mark 6:3)

Herodias (Matt. 14: 1-11; Mark 6:17-28; Luke 3:19-20)

Herodias’ daughter (Matt 14:6-11; Mark: 6: 22-29; Luke 3:19-20)

Women and children among the 5,000 (Matt 14:21)

Women and children among the 4,000 (Matt 15:38)

Syrophenician woman (also called the Woman of Canaan) (Matt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)

Young daughter of the Syrophenician woman (Matt 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30)

The Mother of Zebedee’s Children (Matt 20:20-23; Matt 27:56)

Woman who Anointed Jesus (Matt 26: 6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8)

Damsel to whom Peter denied Christ (Matt 26:69; Mark 14:66- 68; John 18: 17)

Maid to whom Peter denied Christ (Matt 26:71: Mark 14: 69-70; Luke 22:56-57)

Wife of Pontius Pilate ( Matt 27:19)

Many women beholding a far off (Matt 27:55-56; mark 15: 40-41)

Mary Magdalene (Matt 27:57, 61; Matt 28:1-10; Mark 15: 40-41,47; 16: 1-8, 9-11; Luke 8:2-3; 24: 1-11, 22-24; John 19:25; 20: 1-3, 11-18)

Mary, the mother of James and Joses (also called “The other Mary”) (Matt 27:56, 61; 28:1-10; Mark 15: 40-41,47; 16: 1-8; Luke 24: 1-11, 22-24)

The Widow who Gave Two Mites (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4)

Salome (Mark 15: 40-41; Mark 16: 1-8)

Many other woman which came up with Jesus from Galilee (Mark 15: 40-41)

Elisabeth (Luke 1:5-80)

Anna (Luke 2: 36-38)

Widow of Nain ( Luke 7: 11-17)

Sinner who washed Jesus Feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50)

Certain women who had been healed (Luke 8:2-3)

Joanna, the wife of Chuza (Luke 8:2-3; Luke 24: 1-11, 22-24)

Susana (Luke 8:2-3)

Martha (Luke 10: 37-42; John 11: 1-6, 17-27, 34-45; 12:2 )

Mary of Bethany (Luke 10: 37-42; John 11: 1-5, 17-20, 28-34, 39-45; 12:3-9)

Certain woman of the company (Luke 11:27-28)

Woman with a Spirit of Infirmity ( Luke 13:11-16)

Women which bewailed and lamented ( Luke 23: 27-29)

Women that followed Jesus (Luke 23: 49, 55-56)

Other women at the empty tomb (Luke 24: 1-11, 22-24)

Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4: 7-42)

Woman Taken in Adultery ( John 8:1-11)

The mother of the Man Born Blind (John 9:2-3, 18-23)

Mary, the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25)

His Mother’s sister (John 19:25)

Apostles gathered in Prayer and Supplication with the Women (Acts 1:14)

Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

New Women Believers (Acts 5: 14)

Widows who were neglected (Acts 6:1)

Women committed to prison by Paul (Acts 8:3; Acts 22:4)

Samaritan women baptized by Philip (Acts 8:12)

Candance, queen of Ethiopians (Acts 8:27)

Women Persecuted by Paul bring them bound (Acts 9:2)

Tabitha/Dorcus (Acts 9:36-42)

Mary, the Mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12; Col 4:10)

Rhoda (Acts 12:13-15)

Devout and Honorable Jewish Women (Acts 13:50)

Eunice (2 Tim 1:15; Acts 16:1—the son of a certain woman)

Lois (2 Tim 1:15)

Women at the Place of Prayer in Philippi (Acts 16:13)

Lydia (Acts 16: 11-15, 40)

Certain Damsel Possessed with a Spirit of Divination (Acts 16:16-19)

Chief and Honorable Women of the Greeks (Acts 17:4, 12)

Damaris (Acts 17:34)

Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3, 18-20, 24-26; Rom. 16: 3-5; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19)

Wives and children of Tyre (Acts 21:4-6)

Four Daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9)

Paul’s sister (Acts 23:16)

Drusilla (Acts 24:24)

Bernice ( Acts 25:13-14, 23; 26:30)

Phebe (Romans 16:1-2)

Mary of Rome (Rom. 16:6)

Junia (Rom. 16: 7)

Tryphena (Roman 16:12)

Tryphosa (Rom 16:12)

Persis (Rom. 16:12)

Mother of Rufus (Rom. 16: 13)

Sister of Nerus (Rom. 16: 15)

Julia (Rom. 16:15)

Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11)

Euodia (Phillip 4: 2-3) — she is called Euodias in the KJV (a male name) but it is possible she was female

Syntyche (Phillip 4:2-3)

Claudia (2 Tim 4:21)

Ye adulterers and adulteresses (James 4:4)

Apphia (Philemon 1:2)

The Elect Lady (2 John)

The Elect Lady’s Sister (2 John 1:13)

Nympha (Colossians 4:15) — called Nymphas in KJV but is possibly female.