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Step aside

Thursday 9th December

Thomas Dean

In a previous life I was a child opera star. Travelling the nation performing in concert halls, opera theatres and the odd cathedral. I had a treble voice purer than the purest Pentland springs. No amplification needed. Invited to sing the solos at every school chapel service, as a 10 year old I never really reflected on why these opportunities kept appearing, I just enjoyed them as they arose. That is, before the dark day came when puberty hit and I forced my voice to break prematurely, poorly masquerading as a 12 year old baritone.

Christmas time for us always included Bach’s Magnificat joyfully reverberating around our home. I didn’t think to query why so many of the Cathedral choirs were exclusively male, it must’ve just been how things worked, and nobody ever mentioned this masterpiece was Mary’s song. I didn’t possess the wherewithal to explore why or how this woman’s prophetic announcement of God’s imminent arrival had been commandeered by the established church’s answer to Boyz II Men, there must’ve been a good reason to it all. There normally is.

As I grew up around church, I also didn’t think it particularly odd that nearly all of the speaking voices were male. Being more focused on getting home as quickly as possible for the latest Dawson’s Creek installment, I was sure this was just how things worked, there must’ve been a perfectly good justification for it all.

As December rolled around each year and we did our best to rally round the annual fresh perspective on the Christmas story, I didn’t even think it bizarre that there was more in-depth character analysis of the fictional innkeeper bloke than the mother of Christ herself. Until recently, I hadn’t gotten anywhere near discerning the parallel track of voices amplified and voices muted in Luke’s gospel storytelling. As Elizabeth and her cousin Mary sing politic-shifting justice songs over a world they saw and a world they would never see, Zechariah the priest is deliberately silenced and Joseph nothing but a bit-part player. An anomaly?

I’ve no idea how many other male church leaders are contributing to this advent series, but I feel a burden to be honest about something we all know has been taking place since forever but seldom address. There have been times where I’ve written my own name down, or asked other men to contribute who are nowhere near as gifted instead of choosing to amplify the voices of women. Instead of leveraging my own power for good, I’ve chosen to mute women and notch up the male volume because I’ve been wary of upsetting the apple cart. I have decided, on occasions, that appeasing the perceived power-brokers was more pressing than continuing in the Good News tradition of Mary. I’ve done the opposite of what the Holy Spirit did in Luke’s gospel. I’m complicit. The finger is pointing at me.

As the drama of Jesus’ birth unfolded, Mary’s reputation in her community would have been completely tarnished. Yet she carries herself with dignity, humility, purpose and holy servitude. She is a model of leadership.

Still, leaders (like me) ever since have been too reticent to dignify Mary with more than a passing mention for fear of being lumped in with the wrong crowd. Too concerned about their blog post falling in the wrong hands that it doesn’t get written. Too worried about losing influence and relevance that they’ll keep things as they are for one more Christmas.

Mary’s courage in the face of exclusion towers in contrast over those who choose safety over genuine Gospel proclamation in our world. How many voices of hope and cries of justice will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of our status quos? Beyond the limited world of our pulpits and sanctuaries, what name do we give to a world where the rich remain full and the hungry empty? What name would we give to the opposite of the kingdom of God?

May God use us who have, to step aside for and be the amplifiers to the humble of our world. May we be caught up in the Good drama of advent. Where sin is confronted with a Saviour, restlessness is faced down with peace and perpetual injustice given its final notice.

Thomas & Claudia love leading Stenhouse Baptist Church together in Edinburgh. Loves pasta. Hates bios!

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