Manger Theology: What Pregnancy and Birth Can Tell Us about Jesus

by | Dec 20, 2021 | Uncategorized | 20 comments

Manger Theology about Christmas
Merchandise is Here!

Hi, everybody!

This month we’ve been talking about embodiment and mindfulness–how to understand the mind/body connection. I thought that theme fit in well with Christmas, because in Christmas our God actually took on bodily form. The incarnation shows us that our bodies matter.

One of the most illuminating books I’ve read in a long time is Christy Bauman’s Theology of the Womb. She showed how women’s bodies, and the rhythms of women’s bodies, the fears, discomfort, and pain women experience, and the grief that often comes with women’s bodies tell us something about God in a way that we often overlook. Women’s experiences are not secondary to the story of God; they are central to it.

Christy is the cofounder of The Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma, alongisde her husband Andrew Bauman, who has been a frequent guest on our podcast.

I asked Christy to share some thoughts on the incarnation and Advent with us today. I’m taking this week largely off because tomorrow is our 30th anniversary, and I wanted some down time. So I’m grateful that she sent me this post to run that I think will encourage you too!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Nikki Giovanni be interviewed by Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast. The left side of the plane, window seat, 17C, flying over Oregon. I was a young mother of young kids so taking a flight back home alone was a rarity. My pen scribbled frivolous notes as the plane began its descent, the women’s words in the interview were like gold coins falling from the sky and I couldn’t catch them fast enough. I was captivated by it all, but particularly, the concept of manger theology.

Tears spilled from my eyes when I heard Nikki talk about how, as Christians, we look to the cross all the time, yet don’t equally look to the birth in the manger. I was stunned at her words, because I had thought of that so many times when I was in the hospital birthing room waiting to bring a child into this world.

Advent was God’s birthing room.

Every year lighting my Advent candles in preparation for Christ’s birth brought me right back to the memories of my womb.

Because we hesitate to over-glorify Mary, we fail to grasp the theological significance of the birth of Christ with as much fervor as we do the death of Christ.

What would it mean for us to study the months, the days, and the hours leading up to Jesus’ birth in the same way we observe Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter week, and the via Dolorosa to the crucifixion?

This idea sparked something in me, something that I had been thinking and feeling for a long time. The loneliness in pregnancies and the birthing process was where I needed to start looking to understand Advent. All this time, I had been looking to friends who were pregnant at the same time for companionship, or a MOPS group that could understand what I was going through and help me wade through these waters of loneliness. It was really hard to find Jesus during that season, because in a sense, He hadn’t been born, and yet what I knew but couldn’t yet articulate was that I felt the Holy Spirit right there, so intimately growing a child in my womb.

I didn’t know how to connect to and access the relationship that I have learned from in church with my body in which I was experiencing motherhood.

I wanted to learn about the motherhood of God, because God was in my motherhood.

 

Theology of the Womb

The Theology of the Womb

If it is true that God is a male, then His Divinity or Deity is expressed in His masculinity. Yet I am a woman, and there are parts of my body; such as my breasts, my vagina, and my womb that are telling a story about God that I have never learned or understood.

This book is an exploration of the significance of a womb that must shed and bleed before it can create. How will we engage our body which cyclically bleeds most of our life and can build and birth a human soul? How will we honor the living womb, that lives and sometimes dies within us?

I didn’t know how to articulate it at that moment, but luckily, I was part of a church midrash that was open to this idea for our Advent season.

Our pastor taught the first Sunday of Advent on Zechariah being made deaf and mute due to his disbelief until John the Baptist was born, and that our church would observe only women teaching throughout Advent. I still have the recording of that night, four of the female midrash team members discussed for hours what we would teach for the Advent Sunday sermons. Thoughts and stories flowed out of us as we laughed and cried over deliberating Mary and Elizabeth’s pregnancy journeys in conjunction with our own.

What must it have been like for Mary to find out she is pregnant before marriage, or the desperation to travel with morning sickness to live with Elizabeth and midwife her older cousin giving birth, and to travel with swollen ankles on a donkey. We laughed about the fights we would have had with our husband should we have been in such a situation. Did they fear miscarriage, pain, stillbirth, or postpartum depression or anxiety?

Those hours turned into church services that invited our congregation to reflect on the complexities of pregnancy; seasons of infertility, the womb’s fragility and fierceness, and the breaking and bleeding of the female body to give birth to a child.

Universally women’s bodies have been carrying the story of Advent in their wombs for centuries.

The Advent season is an invitation to connect with God fully through waiting and hoping.

God was there in my own pregnancies every time I went to the bathroom fearing I might find blood, or every time I looked in the mirror at my expanding belly, or felt a kick of an alien-looking being inside of me.

I felt intimate with God not as a man, but with all the feminine qualities of God, the femaleness of God.

The manger story is about the greatest birth, a birth of our Savior. The manger story is also about women’s collective story to be creators.

Manger theology invites us to know God through the holy gift of the womb, which grows, waits, and births.

It is the woman’s body that is invited to break open to learn the ways of our Creator. The birthing room is a place where women breathe deep, mother pain, coach their bodies, bleed and tear open to show us the story of God’s love for creation, just as a mother loves her child.

Advent is the story of a woman who learns to become a mother.
Advent is the story of Christ dwelling within us.

Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She has a podcast entitled Womaneeringand she offers storywork consulting, womaneering weekends, and marriage intensives with her husband Andrew Bauman through their organization, Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma. Andrew and Christy host Therapy Shorts podcast for couples. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com or IG @womaneering, she works between her Asheville, NC and Seattle, WA locations.

Manger Theology about Christmas

Why do we have a hard time understanding Manger Theology, as Christy calls it? Why does it seem so awkward to talk about? Is this concept freeing to you? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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20 Comments

  1. Nessie

    In my past church experiences, sermons just didn’t talk about women of the bible much except Mary and Martha. Maybe, since mostly men write the sermons (in my circles), and since men don’t have uteruses (uteri?) and can never truly experience it themselves, it simply doesn’t occur to them, or at least not to the same depth? I think it’d be amazing to have a sermon use the words: uterus, vagina, etc. God made these parts- why are we so afraid to discuss that which He created?

    I’ve joked with some friends that a donkey was the prototype for a birthing ball, lol. Maybe having these experiences as women (even if a woman never experiences a pregnancy, she still sheds life-sustaining material often) allow us to draw closer to other women in a way that God wants us to draw near to Him.

    I think it is an incredible concept that she came up with and wrote about. I hope to explore this book soon.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      OH! Btw, Merry Christmas, and Happy 30th Anniversary! Hope you enjoy the family time and can let go of anything other than the love that surrounds you during these times of celebration!

      Reply
  2. A2bbethany

    What is a midrash? I’ve never heard of it before!

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      In the Jewish tradition, it is the ancient practice of telling the “backstory” to the written scripture. Some of it can be quite imaginative, and it is often designed to transmit a moral message.

      Reply
    • Christy Bauman

      Midrash is a Jewish tradition of scholars getting together to talk through scripture interpretation and teachings.

      Reply
  3. Nathan

    Very good topic. I’ve never really thought about it that way, before, but it makes sense. So much attention is paid to the death and ressurection of Jesus, because that provided the key to salvation and eternal life. But he never could have died and been resurrected without being born in the first place.

    As for not wanting to talk about certain body parts and natural functions, that reminds me of the old TV show “I love Lucy”, when producers and the network freaked out about putting a pregnant woman on television. Odd thing: Every person involved in that discussion existed because of a pregnant woman. In fact, every human being on this Earth is here only because of an unbroken chain of pregnant women going back thousands of years.

    Without pregnant women, and those “vulgar” body parts, none of us would exist today.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia

    In Hebrew, one of the terms used for God is ha-Rahaman (the All-Merciful One). It has been noted that the root of the Hebrew word for mercy is related to the word for womb (rehem).

    Reply
    • Christy Bauman

      Yes!! I love this interpretation! Thank you for sharing this.

      Reply
  5. CMT

    I’m not sure why but the mental picture of a group of women teachers putting their heads together, talking about how to walk their whole church through Advent with stories about pregnancy, literally made me tear up. I have never been in a church that valued women like that.

    Reply
    • Anon

      They’re valuing mothers, not women.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Anon, I think I know what you mean. I’m well aware that the church has often tied women’s value to motherhood in a way that is hurtful to many.

        However, what was so moving to me was not solely the centering of motherhood for Advent, but the implication that this church has a pre-existing team of teachers that already includes multiple women. I’ve heard women speak in church on special occasions. I’ve never been in a church where women teaching the whole congregation would be routine.

        Reply
    • Christy Bauman

      May this be a new chapter for you and may you know the incredible love of God that comes through a church that invites the female voice to the teachings. Blessings to you.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Oh are you the author?? Did not expect that!

        The idea of a “theology of the womb” sounds really moving to me but of course it begs the question (as other commenters have already alluded to). What about women who aren’t mothers?

        I have an idea but I’m not sure it holds water. Typically evangelicals have looked at motherhood to see what it tells us about *women* and what they should do, instead of what it tells us about *God* and what He does. The former hardens gender essentialism, separating the “feminine” from God. It also encourages mothers to subsume their identity in their role and marginalizes women who don’t have kids. Would doing the latter be healthier? If that’s not it then what are we missing?

        Maybe I should just buy the book hehe.

        Reply
  6. Anon

    I have no issue with being open and honest about the realities of the Bible, including pregnancy & labour. But as a woman who is unable to have children and who has regularly been made to feel ‘less than’ by church mothers, I would encourage anyone considering spending a lot of time focusing on this to be very sensitive in how they do this. I’ve already heard numerous comments in the past few weeks about how I can’t possibly ‘fully understand’ Mary’s experience because I’ve never given birth and how Christmas isn’t important for us because we don’t have kids. Christ-with-us, Emmanuel, is important for EVERYONE, whether or not they have a functioning womb! And I don’t think any of us can ever fully understand Mary’s experience because it was unique.

    I would find an advent season which 100% focussed on women teaching about Elizabeth & Mary’s ‘pregnancy journeys’ depressing. We serve a God who causes the barren woman to rejoice, not to feel excluded by her childlessness x

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      Yeah I’d agree with you, that it’d be hard for some women. I’ve heard that being in church, for childless women can be torturous. Because especially newlyweds, get asked about children constantly. Really, barren women are like single people, as the oddball out. And that should change somehow….

      Reply
      • Cynthia

        One thing I learned from my pregnancy losses was that unless you are someone’s spouse or doctor, it is NEVER okay to ask/comment about their plans for having kids. I don’t care if you are just making conversation, or thinking that you want to encourage them, or wanting grandchildren, or saying something that people say all the time. You really never know someone’s situation, and your well-intentioned words can feel like a knife to the gut.

        I remember attending a friend’s wedding while I was in the middle of having miscarriage #2, and friends were asking about when we were going to have another baby. (They knew our daughter, and had no idea about the miscarriage.)

        I also remember attending our place of worship and having a friend’s mother comment on how cute our 2 yr old was, and then say “time to have another!” I tried to give a weak smile and said “we’re trying”, to which she replied “try harder!” Well, that was less than 2 weeks after miscarriage #3, and it was all I could do to try to keep it together for another 30 sec. so that I could run outside and start bawling.

        Reply
    • CMT

      This is sad to read. The people who said those things to you were thoughtless at best.

      The idea of God being maternal and having “feminine” attributes speaks to me personally on such a deep level, but my experiences have been very different from yours. If you wouldn’t mind sharing a little, I am curious what a sensitive conversation about that would sound like for you. IMO we need to do better at understanding what it means to be female and made in God’s image, but that understanding has to have space for everyone.

      Reply
      • Anon

        I think the #1 point is not to conflate ‘woman’ with ‘mother’ or ‘wife’. You can be the first without being the second or third, yet many churches assume that if you are female, you must be married with kids. E.g. ‘Now, ladies, we ALL know what it’s like to get annoyed with our children, don’t we?’ when talking to a mix of married, single, parents and childless.

        And #2, don’t hold up wives and mothers have having ‘special’ or ‘unique’ understanding and gifts, without also mentioning that the single and childless also have special understanding and gifts. E.g. I’m sure that mothers can understand Mary’s experience of birth or her pain at watching Jesus die on the cross in a deeper way than the childless can – but the never-married perhaps have a deeper understanding of the isolation Jesus felt during his earthly ministry. And none of us can truly understand what either situation was really like anyway!

        And #3, don’t tell the single or childless person that they can ‘never understand’ x or ‘lack ability’ in y because of their single/childless status. While it may be true in some cases it can leave the single or childless person feeling very excluded. Also, it’s pretty pointless – if being childless imposes a ‘limitation’ or ‘weakness’ on my life that I can’t change, there’s no point going on about it -far better to focus on the things I CAN change.

        Reply
        • CMT

          Thank you for responding. These things all sound very common sense but I have definitely been in spaces where this level of basic courtesy was not the norm.

          I like what you said about single people possibly relating better to Jesus’ life experience than married people. This is the kind of thing we need to be talking about more. Trying to fit everyone into the same molds keeps us from learning from each other.

          Reply
    • Christy Bauman

      I am so sorry to hear how many people have been careless with your story and said such horrible things to you. In the podcast I just did on this we talked a lot about how women who have never had children (some who don’t want children or can’t have children) know a story about God that I am in awe of and want to sit and listen and learn from – I am sorry for all those who have not honored that you are an image bearer of God and therefore just in your essence tell us a story about God know one else can tell us. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I am grateful to hear how this article impacted you so I can learn how to say it in a more caring way.
      .

      Reply

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