Catholics for a Changing Church

Incarnation - Word made flesh - A Christmas challenge!

by Raynah Marise

Every year Christmas comes along, I go through an almost allergic reaction of frustration and incredulity to the usual narrative that is repeated, underlined, emphasised and swallowed unquestioningly by everyone. It is so different from what the story highlighted in the scriptures. It thus ends up in the realms of fairy tales where we listen, exclaim and move on with our lives rather than being an exhortation that should be challenging us to review our lives and see where we stand in comparison to our calling as modelled for us in the Christmas Story. Let me spell out the components of the yardstick that the story presents us.

Choice Vs Compliance - Annunciation

Every rendition of the story highlights Mary’s ‘obedience’ to what she was called by the ‘angel’ to do. The submissive response of obedience to God’s will diminishes Mary’s calling to partner with God in the salvation of humanity! It negates the process she goes through of daring to dialogue, clarify possibilities before she exercises her agency in agreeing to collaborate in the plan for the Word to take flesh in her and through her into the world!

This completely changes the story to include us and calls us to hear the angel calling us to the same challenge to make the Word flesh in and through our lives…. Be collaborators with God today, to enable the continuing of the story of salvation in our times by making the Christ presence a reality in our world, wherever we are.

Will we choose the easier path of letting the Christmas story be superimposed on the fairy-tale story of the commercial Santa Claus that lasts only a season and is then allowed to fade into oblivion until the next year! Yes this reinforces the image of the divine being one whom you ask for favours and receive them without having to do anything… A Santa Claus God who answers prayers when we need something! 

Will we choose unquestioning, submissive compliance to being ‘Church’ as prescribed for us by those who claim authority to ‘know’ the Divine or will be open to listen to the promptings of the Spirit as Mary did, to critique and clarify, to dialogue and if necessary, challenge before choosing to use our own agency to give assent to the incarnation and birthing of the divine within us and through us in the complex contexts we are placed in.

The world needs the active presence of the Word today, to bring peace in the midst of turmoil, violence and confusion; to spread love in the spreading climate of judgement, suspicion and hate; to bring hope to those facing hopelessness because of their being denied their rights and dignity, being ‘othered’ because of their choices of religion, gender, sexuality, etc. Can we hear the call to incarnate the Word in our lives and in our world today?

Accompaniment & Solidarity - Visitation

A part of the story glossed over is Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The narrative we hear focusses on her going to visit her cousin and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaping in recognition of the presence of the messiah in Mary’s womb.

Mary and Elizabeth, two women at the two ends of the spectrum of productive womanhood, both in questionable situations of pregnancy: one because of it being out of wedlock the other because it is after years of being barre. Both socially considered as occasions of shame because of the societal norms of that time as dictated by patriarchal morality. Yet both these situations also speak of a God of the Impossible who intervenes in the lives of those who choose to trust and love unconditionally… a God who intervenes not according to our specifications of appropriate timing and situations but shows us that all time and situations are sacred and open to divine interruption.

Mary reaches out to her elderly cousin, putting aside her own troubling situation and its possible repercussions and reaches out in compassionate, loving, supportive solidarity to Elizabeth for as long as needed. Elizabeth in her turn allows the Spirit’s promptings within her to recognise the Messiah in her young cousin’s womb and cries out with joy! Mary filled with the Spirit responds with the Magnificat where she proclaims a reversal of the social, economic and political order under divine rule.

What does this special interaction call us to? Mary calls us by her example to be sensitive to the situation of other women in difficult situations and to unreservedly respond to them and make the divine present to them. It calls to my mind victims of abuse and violence in our neighbourhoods, communities and religious congregations. Do we look at them with the lens of suspicion, apathy or indifference, or like Mary, do we put on the lens of compassionate non-judgmental love and reach out to them?  I think of the women of Shaheen Baug who came together out of their homes to proclaim their support for each other, for the truth and for the constitutional provisions. Women victims of domestic violence in the North East come to my mind, those who come together to cry, pray for and with each other, heal each other’s wounds so they can continue for another week in their oppressive situations from which they see no way out. I think of Women hugging trees, doing what they can to protect and protest environmental rape; Mothers whose young sons disappear without a trace, or are lynched, or unjustly blamed; Women I resonate with in difficult situations, weeping into our pillows, longing for someone to hear our hidden cries and comfort our aching hearts! Can we, men, women, and all others be Marys reaching out in compassionate, unquestioning, support to the Elizabeths in our midst today proclaiming the Magnificat by our solidarity and stance for justice, equality of dignity and rights.

Jesus Dead or Christ Alive

Does the Christmas narrative of the beautiful cherubic baby, singing angels, wandering wise men and shepherds have any connection with the bleeding, bruised figure on the cross and the resurrected presence encountered by the disciples, both, the deniers and the doubters” Somehow, we get lost in the enchantment of the first part, mourn at the season of the second part and have amnesia about the third, most important part. Unless we see the connection of the three, the peace, love and hope we speak about this season of Christmas has no meaning and no real significance.

It is Mary’s journey from the annunciation, to the visitation, the nativity, accompanying him from a distance as he preached, taught, healed and comforted and as he carried his cross. It did not end with her having his lifeless body laid across her lap nor with her saying farewell to him in his tomb. She experienced his resurrected presence among the disciples and then went on to being his presence to the fledgeling community of Christians, nurturing them by her word and witness to know her son and his teachings, supporting them, accompanying them as they in turn said their ‘YES’ to the Word becoming flesh in their lives and their birthing of this new way of being that he had demonstrated!

For me this is what the Christmas story is all about. A challenge! A Challenge to Dialogue with the Divine, to let the promptings of the Spirit give me Clarity so I can make Conscious, Continuous, Choices aligned to the will of the Divine. For only then will the resurrected Christ live and reign and a kin-dom of love and hope, peace and justice spread.

Will the Word be made flesh in you?

Raynah Marise is the National Convenor, Indian Christian Women’s Movement.
Chairperson, Women’s Commission, Diocese of Poona.