Throughout Advent, the Anglican church’s liturgy looks to four different groups of people or individuals, to how they prepared for the coming of Christ. The first Sunday considers the “Patriarchs”. This week, we instead honour our Matriarchs…
“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”.
We hear this refrain often in scripture, either from humans or heard directly from God. To each of these three men, God gave and repeated his covenant, and so it is their story that is often recalled as a reminder of that covenant.
But what of the women? While the stories of these three men can both inspire us and caution us in our search for God, it still feels deeply wrong that the women are relegated to side roles or background props.
What of the God of Sarah, Hagar and Keturah, of Rebecca, of Leah and Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah? Eight women connected as wives or concubines with those three men. Women who had rich and complex inner lives just like their husbands/masters.
Sarah, who was both victim and abuser, whose laughter at God’s promise perhaps hid her own pain and hopelessness.
Hagar, who was never allowed her own desires or choices, but becomes the first person to name God, as The One who Sees her exploitation and despair.
Keturah, who gets only a line of scripture - who married a man whose life had revolved around begetting an heir, long after that storyline had worked its brutal way out - and bore him six sons.
Rebecca, who knows what she deserves from day one and asks it of God; who tricks her husband to bless their younger twin, because she believed the words she had heard from God.
Leah and Rachel, sisters whose marriage to the same man leads to deep pain between them - distrust and dysfunction that is passed down to their offspring.
Bilhah and Zilpah, who were drawn into that same tension without the benefit of status or children in their own name.
I wonder in what way we are meant to imagine their preparation for the coming of Christ this first Sunday of Advent? It feels almost flippant to ask it like that, as if their lives and their pain are just a backdrop - again! - for another more significant event.
But if we imagine that Christ is “before all things, and in him all things hold together”, perhaps we can look again. Christ is understood as the incarnation of God, the “breaking in” of God from the heavenly realm to the created realm, a bridging of the gap between the divine and the human.
We know only a hint of their stories, but we see in those of Sarah, Hagar and Rebecca how they had their own individual encounters with the Divine, how God was not simply an “out there” skygod, but a Presence that could be experienced, questioned, challenged, and called upon. A Presence that could be trusted to meet them in their own unique lives.
Their stories might not have mattered enough to the religious gatekeepers of the day to be included like those of the patriarch's but our Mothers in faith owned their own spiritual stories, and in their own complex lives, they bear witness to the God who is Already Here.
How do you encounter Divine Presence in your ordinary everyday life? And if that experience has been disqualified in the past by established religion, what would it look like to own that encounter as true and authentic?
How might Sarah, Hagar and Rebecca empower you to question God, challenge God, or cry out for justice from God?
How do you understand St Paul’s phrase, that Christ is “before all things, and in him all things hold together”? What emotions, thoughts or sensations arise in you as you consider that idea?
Mother of Sarah, Hagar and Rebecca, may our eyes be open to see you here, with us, in our ordinary everyday existence, and to know that you are the One who is Already Here.
May we be empowered to bring to you our questions and our complaints, our despair and our pain, our desires and our hopes.
And may Christ who holds all things together, hold us together in love, compassion and liberation.