This blog post was originally written for the Scarritt Bennett Center blog.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in her home, he said, “Fear not.” These encouraging words have been uttered throughout the Biblical and Gospel texts to many people whom God has chosen to have a special role in the world (Hagar, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph and many more). When Mary heard Gabriel speak, what fear do you think these words were dispelling? The song “Mary Did You Know,” popularized by Clay Aiken, may shed light on this issue:
“Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?”
If Mary had any idea what she was getting into (which it seems she did, since she asked “How can this be?”…let’s be real, she had doubts, wouldn’t you?!) she would have been afraid. If her child was going to do all of the miraculous things listed in this song (giving sight, calming the storm, delivering the world, ruling the nations, etc.), she must have known it wouldn’t be easy. When told that her child would be the Messiah, it must have been downright terrifying. Many people venerate Mary’s courageousness, being an unwed pregnant teen and accepting God’s call in her life. For me, the amazing part is that despite the fear that must have been present in that room, Mary chose to accept the annunciation and become pregnant and bring Jesus her child into the world, knowing full well that the work that he would do in his life, the way he lived, would go against the state religion, would push people out of their comfort zones and would cause Jesus her child to die by capital punishment, by the state.
Some think Jesus was simply born to die, but I believe Mary chose to bring Jesus into the world to demonstrate living in a way that would make it possible for others to live. She carried the baby Jesus in her womb and brought Jesus into the world to bring about not only her redemption, but the world’s redemption. She brought Jesus her child into the world to bring about justice in a way that brings powerholders down and lifts up the lowly. Jesus was not born to die, but to live for justice and further the possibility of peace in the world, bring us all into a community of love and respect and justice. We can learn from this incredible Biblical woman that the things we birth into being bring us salvation. I am reminded of a powerful quote from “To Be Virgin” by Loretta Ross-Gotta in Watch for the Light: Meditations for Advent and Christmas: “Told all her life that she is ‘nothing,’ the girl discovers in herself another, deeper reality. A mystery; something holy, with a potential for salvation.”
Today, given the news of racial violence and strife, both domestic and international, the idea of having children and bringing children into this world is scary. There is so much violence and so much racism and so much danger everywhere in this world. I reiterate a previous question: are some families in this world bringing children in the world just to have violence perpetrated against them, just to die? Let that sink in.
In light of Ferguson and Staten Island and Cleveland and Detroit, many women of color are raising the issues of “reproductive justice” alongside “racial justice” and #blacklivesmatter, and rightly so. Jasmine Burnett, a Black feminist activist, was quoted in this article from ThinkProgress:
“We look at the right to have a child, to not have a child, and to parent your child in a safe and sustainable community free from violence…If you aren’t safe in your community because you’re racially profiled by the police, and you can’t walk from your home to a clinic or to a hospital to access the services you need, then that’s not really a full articulation of reproductive justice.”
Upon hearing the news of the nonidictment of Darren Wilson, Tamura Lomax at The Feminist Wire, wrote:
“I am a black mother and a black wife. I fear for my beloveds’ safety everyday. Ain’t I feminist too? Ain’t the potential murder of my loved ones and how that may impact me and others in my community a feminist concern too?”
An RH Reality Check article writes:
“[Hannah Giorgis] shares this waking nightmare with countless other Black mothers who live in fear of their children falling to the vengeful divinity of the state. “Any force that systematically and unapologetically turns unconsenting Black wombs into graveyards,” she says, “is a reproductive justice issue.””
The article also quotes Imani Gandy, a Senior Legal Analyst at RH Reality Check, who tweeted “I saw so many people on Twitter saying ‘I don’t want to have/raise black children in this country.’ That is a reproductive justice issue.” We must not shut our eyes and ears to these women of color writing about their deepest fears. We must listen and bear holy witness to them.
And yet, we are told to “fear not” because God is with us. But how can we disabuse ourselves of our fear in such a world? Today, we are bringing children into the world with the full knowledge that the way we will teach them to live, the way they will be educated to work for justice for all people and the planet, might get them killed. The work of justice is dangerous. The work of peace is dangerous. The work of peace and justice will attract the powers and principalities and they will try their darndest to stop us.
By thinking about the way that Jesus died, was killed, we can catch a glimpse of what the purpose of Jesus’ life and death was. If we look beyond the death, beyond the simple point of salvation, we can see that Jesus was killed for the way he lived, killed for talking back and acting out against the state. Jesus was not white, ergo Jesus did not have white privilege. Jesus was a low-class, backwater, rural boy born under questionable circumstances and out of wedlock to a carpenter and his wife. Jesus was a person of color, Semitic, a Jew. He probably had a beard, as many religious men still wear today. He was killed for being a peace activist, for healing the sick, for feeding the hungry, for letting women worship, for reaching across boundaries of race, ethnicity, and country–exactly the things that we are taught to work for in the Gospels. God has given us the power of community to help us overcome the dangerous and dark world in which we find ourselves. We are told to “fear not” as we work for justice, knowing there have been many who have gone before and many who will come after us.
One of the beautiful things about Christmas is way that God aligned God’s self with the human condition, with human suffering, and recognized the incredible need for justice in this life, in this world. Humans had, then as now, been hurting each other and the planet, and God brought God’s self into the world in the form of Jesus. The very creation, the very firmament of our society is “groaning” and “crying out” according to Romans 8, and it is our responsibility as Christians, as people who are dedicated to working for justice, to release creation (and each other) from bondage and bring about a new way of being in the world. Another world is possible, and through the vigils and marches and die-ins and conversations and co-suffering and compassion in the midst of racial strife and resistance to violence, we are able to glimpse that world. We are able to show it to each other, and through our lives, make it possible for all of us to live in that world, in the here and now.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Emmanuel, “God with us.” We welcome you to our world and into our hearts. We recognize that you have always been with us, and always shall be us. We thank you that we can join with you, and never rest from, the work of freedom, justice, and peace in this world.
Articles for further reading: