“God Steps Down Amid Sexual Assault Allegations” an Advent sermon on Luke 1

Listen to the Audio only here

There is a meme doing the rounds on the internet that points an accusing finger at today’s readings: It’s a joke of sorts, that begins with the headline: “God Steps Down Amid Sexual Assault Allegations” The joke continues: “God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth will be stepping down as Supreme Lord of the Universe amid allegations of sexual assault from Mary, the mother of his son. In a guest column of the Jerusalem Times, Mary detailed God’s grooming tactics, exploitation of power dynamics, and physical coercion that ultimately resulted in the birth of their son, Jesus.”

There is another meme that’s been going around the church for centuries. Listen, I think you may know it:  “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, (wait for it….) born of the virgin Mary, … The Apostles’ Creed…As a progressive Christian congregation…we no longer recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship… Nor do we recite the Nicene Creed…

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship and even in the old green Lutheran Book of Worship, the creeds are what is a “may rubric”. Open up your hymnals to page 104

“The Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed may be spoken” The word “may” indicates that the creeds don’t have to be recited, but that they “may be spoken.”  The creeds take us back centuries to a time when various factions in the church couldn’t stop arguing about the nature of Jesus’ humanity. These arguments lead to battles in which hundreds and indeed thousands and thousands of people were killed. Historically, the creeds functioned as a kind of laying down of the law, this is what you shall, no “may” about it this with what you “shall” believe. Most Lutheran churches continue to recite the creeds in worship, even though they are a “may rubric”. So, I wasn’t surprised last week, when I attended an ordination service in which our Bishop Michael presided, that I found myself being asked to recite the words of the Apostles’ creed. Nor was I surprised as the congregation around me dutifully recited the words of the Apostles’ creed, that I couldn’t for the life of me, no matter how much I would like to have simply played ball, I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words of the Apostles’ Creed as an act of worship.  There’s just something about Mary that trips me up every time I try to say the words, for I do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

Jesus’ mother may have been many things, but I do not believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. You see, I’ve been to seminary and I have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and I know that the very best New Testament scholars in the world teach us that our English translations of the Gospels are based on the anonymous gospel storytellers’ incorrect translation of the Hebrew text found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah’s words “Behold the Lord Himself will give you a sign, a Virgin shall conceive and she shall call his name Immanuel.”

 The Hebrew word which some men chose to translate as “virgin” is more accurately translated as “young woman” or “young maiden” There is a Hebrew word for “virgin” but that word for “virgin” does not appear in the Hebrew text. Over the centuries the anonymous gospel storytellers’ inaccurate translation has been repeated so many times that Mary’s virginity is now considered “gospel” — pardon the pun. Continue reading

Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the Daughters of Jerusalem

Mary pregnantFlipping through Bruce Sanguin’s  collection of sermons, “The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart,” I was opened to a new way of pondering the myth of the “virginity” of Mary in Sanguin’s sermon on Luke 1:26-38 entitled “The Future Calls.” 

Sanguin writes, “What about the virgin birth? Despite being a mistranslation of a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a “young woman” and not a virgin, this story has tuck. But let’s explore if at face value. One of the most subversive meanings is captured in a single line from a Bruce Cockburn Christmas song: “Mary grows a child without the help of a man.” The assumptions of patriarchy–that men are favoured ones, that all good things must happen through the male gender, that men should hold all the power, and that women are naturally subservient–are overturned in this single detail. The virgin birth has nothing to do with concern over sexual impurity. The Jewish tradition affirms the body and sexuality as a gift of God. The myth of the Virgin birth is announcing the end of an age, patriarchy, and the beginning of a new creation in Christ. To be Christian is to consent to equality. We are now certain that one of the most radical features of the early Christian church was that women enjoyed equal status with men–unheard of anywhere in the world in the first century. It too men in the church a couple of centuries to wrest control back and exclude women. But the story stands in its affirmation that the world can run just fine without the illusion of the necessity of male dominance. In this story, Spirit bypasses patriarchy in the conception and birth of a new humanity, symbolized by the birth of Christ.”

Would that Sanguin’s reading of the gospel-storyteller’s intention were true! Sadly, whatever glimmer of hope for the end of the age of patriarchy may have been present at the turn of the first century, that glimmer was extinguished over and over again in the succeeding centuries. The slim flickers of equality do continue to burn. But that we need to continue to live in hope rather than the reality of equality is born out by the recent bad news of the downfall of cherished heroes like Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi. That men of such prominence in our society should have resorted to dominance over rather than equality with women, bears testament to the reality that patriarchy continues to haunt our lives together. The peace we all long for continues to be threatened by the violence of patriarchy’s firm grip upon the psyche of so many.  

While Cosby and Ghomeshi are but puny players upon the stage our media has erected to  exhibit the morays of our culture, they are indicative of our delusional insistence that we have defeated the horrors of patriarchy. In a world where young girls continue to be abducted and sold into the slavery of the sex-trade, where so-called honour-killings continue, where little girls are shot in the head for daring to seek and education and we in the West respond by wringing our hands or turning away, we should not be surprised that our celebrated heroes should believe themselves to be impervious to rebuke. 

The crimes, indeed the horrors, which have been perpetrated and continue to be inflicted as a result of the continued inequality between women and men cannot all be linked to the church’s insistence that Jesus was born of a “virgin.” But the church must confess our culpability, for our structures and theologies uphold the delusions of the deranged who continue to cling to the power that patriarchy affords them. 

So this Christmas, as the myth of Mary’s virginity continues to haunt us, listen carefully and hear the cries of the Daughters of Jerusalem as they bewail the plight of the One we call the Christ. Listen to that One who responds to their cries, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me! Weep rather for ourselves and for your children!” And when our weeping is done, let us rise up in unison and equality to tend the wounds that patriarchy has wrought upon the earth so that this Christmas the “birth of a new humanity can be symbolized by the birth of Christ.”  We can begin by remembering that Jesus of Nazareth was, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “born of a woman,” a powerful woman indeed!