Mary, the Mother of Jesus, teaches us to see femaleness not as a limitation, but as an essential part of God’s story

Written by Kristen Unrau

Imagine feeling called to become a pastor and to spread the good news of Christ, but after four years studying theological and biblical texts, you’re met with resistance and comments like, “Being a pastor is not really a woman’s role.”

As a female pastor, I’ve confronted many expectations about what a woman can or can’t, should or shouldn’t do: the assumption that I’m not a real pastor, that I should prioritize family instead of pastoral duties, and that women can share but not preach.

In contrast, our society tends to applaud women who surpass expectations set by their gender. We might exclaim, “Look at what she achieved despite being a woman!” as if femininity is a limitation to conquer.

I don’t believe that is the true story of what it means to be a faithful woman of God. It’s time for this perspective to change. The Bible is filled with many stories of strong women who help me reshape the ideas I received about what femininity and being a woman of God look like. One of these women is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary is often painted as a quiet, submissive figure in religious stories. And that is part of her story, especially when she humbly accepts to bear God’s Son through the messenger Gabriel.

Yet that’s just one part of the story. American New Testament scholar Scot McKnight writes, “I once stood in front of 65 of my students and read Mary’s song from Luke 1:46–55 loudly, with the emotion of protest. I asked this question: What kind of woman would have sung this song? Do you hear that the woman who sang this song had vision? Do you hear her courage? Do you hear that she must have been what some have called a ‘dangerous’ woman?

A fuller picture of Mary shows a woman who is not just meek and mild; she’s also bold, courageous, and full of faith. Nothing illustrates her bravery more than the way she reacts to the news of her carrying the future Messiah. Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

A fuller picture of Mary shows a woman who is not just meek and mild; she’s also bold, courageous, and full of faith.

Mary says yes to God. Despite the risks, she jumps into God’s plan with both feet, knowing full well the backlash from her community over her unexpected pregnancy. But she doesn’t let fear hold her back. Instead, she embraces her role in God’s story of changing the world, of making things right again.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, recognized the countercultural message of Mary’s Song. In a sermon during Advent in 1933 he described her words as the “most revolutionary hymn ever sung.”

Mary’s story reminds me of Eowyn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. She doesn’t save the day despite being a woman; she conquers precisely because of it. As she kills the terrifying Lord of the Nazgûl, a master of death and darkness, in The Return of the King she gives her famous line: “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.”

Genesis 3:15 talks about a conflict between the serpent and the woman, hinting at a crucial role for women in this conflict. Mary’s “yes” to God sets the stage for the victory of the Cross. Just like Eowyn, Mary doesn’t win the battle single-handedly, but her part in the grand scheme of things is huge. It’s this reminder from Genesis 3:15 that women play a bold role in God’s redemptive mission.   

As both a Christian and a female pastor, I can’t help but wish I’d embraced Mary’s story more deeply growing up. Being a woman, being feminine, it’s not something to overcome to do God’s work. It is part of what enables us to do his work.

Mary’s example teaches me so much about the kind of woman I aspire to be: courageous, faithful, and unyielding in my commitment to God’s calling. As I look ahead to the future of women in the Church, I hope we follow in Mary’s footsteps, saying yes to extraordinary callings despite the risks.

There are a range of perspectives on a woman’s role as a pastor, and you might have different convictions than the ones I do. Yet, Mary’s song can still speak to all women everywhere—reminding us that we too are called by God and we can be brave and courageous as we say yes to the Lord.

So, let’s wait, watch, work, and proclaim the greatness of the Lord who has already overcome every obstacle and continues to work through all those who boldly say yes to him.

Kristen Unrau works as an associate pastor in a rural church in Manitoba with her husband Caleb. She is passionate about discipleship and the next generation of the Church.