This week, the daily Bible study resource With Love to the World (which I edit) is currently using readings from the Womens’ Lectionary for the Whole Church, devised by Prof. Wilda Gafney, of the USA, alongside readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. A number of the readings (including the familiar Gospel from Luke 2) refer to childbirth. The cover image, by Australian artist the Rev. Dr Geraldine Wheeler, depicts the newborn child and his young mother, wonderfully contextualised for the Australian location.
Associate Professor Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon, the Academic Dean of Pilgrim Theological College in the University of Divinity, writes about Isaiah 26:16–19, that “The prophet Isaiah, familiar with the pain and the agony of a woman in labor, uses this uniquely female experience as metaphor to describe the suffering and distress of the people, here personified as the pregnant woman, ready to give birth. The labor of pregnant woman Judah is futile (vv.17–18) … But pregnant Judah is assured by God who midwifes life, that this time of pain will cease … the dead will rise and the slain will be restored to life. Relationships between humanity and nature, and between nations, ruptured and shredded by enmity and war, will be healed and transformed.”
On the familiar Gospel,count of the birth of Jesus, Luke 2:1–20, Prof. Melanchthon writes, “Mary was one of the ‘anawim’, a young, lower class working Jewish woman betrothed to Joseph, a local carpenter, living in occupied territory. She becomes an active agent, cooperating with God to become the bearer of God’s child. The invisible God is made present and available in the visible, the finite, the historical, the concrete, the tangible, and the fleshly. The baby is born and laid in a feeding trough. The first people, divinely notified of this birth, are not princes and powers, but another marginal category of people—shepherds, symbols of subalternity (referring to lower social classes and other social groups who are displaced to the margins of a society) … Their initial fear turned into amazement, joy and praise and they spread the good news.”
Later in the week, Prof. Melanchthon reflects on the alternative account of the early years of Jesus, Matt 2:13–23, noting that “Rachel the mother figure, weeping and inconsolable, draws us to the figure of Mother God; Rachel’s tears and lament stirs the inner parts (the womb) of the Divine which trembles (yearns) for the child. The human mother refuses consolation; the Jeremiah text quoted here assures that the divine mother changes grief into consolation.” She notes also that, “In the context of male tyranny and power politics, Joseph paves the way for a different or new understanding of masculinity, which is kenotic (self-emptying). He gives up his own power for a positive and mutually transformative masculinity, reminiscent of fathers who risk their lives for their children.”
This week of readings forms part of a full 13 weeks of commentaries by female writers on scripture passages that are fitting for the season. You can read more about this whole issue at https://johntsquires.com/2022/10/20/womens-voices-speaking-with-love-to-the-world-this-christmas/
With Love to the World can accessed immediately on phones and iPads via an App, for a subscription of $24.49 per year (go to the App Store or Google Play). Printed issues are available (after 9 January) at just $24 for a year’s subscription (see http://www.withlovetotheworld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Ordering-and-paying-for-Website-7.vii_.2020.pdf).
Excerpts from With Love to the World are copyright and are reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.
For more on the Christmas readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, see https://johntsquires.com/2022/12/18/three-options-for-christmas-celebrations-the-nativity-of-the-lord/