advent 4: trusting ourselves

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1.18-20)

Today's readings are about Mary. But Matthew's version of events (the gospel set for this year) pushes Joseph, not Mary, to the foreground. We see Mary through the eyes of Joseph, confused and angry at his fiancé's pregnancy. The story focuses on the scandal of the young unmarried mother, and in the still taken from Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St Matthew, Mary stands alone, while the village whispers and condemns.

In Luke, it is Mary who acts. She grasps hold of the angel's promise; that her child will be of God. A poor young girl, living in occupied territory, does not have many choices about what happens to her body. But Mary recognizes this encounter with the angel as a moment of decision, and in this she is blessed.

The desperation of poverty, and the violence wrought by occupying soldiers, continue to undermine young girls' control over their bodies. Sexual violence accompanies conflict and poverty, through prostitution and other forms of rape. Many poor young girls who are made pregnant are further denied the option of a safe abortion. Like Mary, they can be isolated and vulnerable.

The angel blessed Mary by giving her a choice. May it be that every girl and woman has control over her own body.

Abortion Rights is one of several reproductive health campaign organization working in the UK.