When I was a child, the run-up to Christmas was much more churchy than it is today. Every year we started an Advent calendar on December 1 with a picture of the holy family, the shepherds, the kings on camels, the star with glitter glued to it. We opened the doors day by day, so slowly, slowly, slowly from my child’s sense of time, revealing the messages and pictures behind the doors.
A little before Christmas Eve, my Dad drove our whole family to get a tree, which we decorated Christmas Eve afternoon.
I remember so fondly the chocolate covered cherries in the box of chocolates they gave each of us in Sunday school as a gift on the 4th Sunday of Advent, along with a little candle of a caroler or an angel. I waited impatiently through all this for the moment on Christmas morning when we stood by age from the top of the stairs until our parents gave the green light to come down to the living room.
The concept of the most important “buying season” of the year has swamped that slow progress to Christmas. For many, decorations go up shortly after Halloween and certainly by Thanksgiving. There is no waiting for the Christmas celebration. What we have now seems to be an extended party season through the New Year.
Will you join me in reviving the ancient focus on waiting in this season of Advent, the four weeks or so between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day?
Graceful, attentive waiting is a joy that requires practice and patience.
It nurtures a deliberate sense of time and anticipation. It offers a period of reflection that is connected to a heightened sense of promise. It is active in both spirit and body. At the end of this momentous year for the LGBT community, we would do well to nurture the spiritual discipline of waiting as we both look back and anticipate a new future.
With Hawaii granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting December 2, 2013, and Illinois setting June 1, 2014, as their date to begin, the most likely states to ensure the freedom to marry are on record to do just that. In addition, the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor struck down the crucial section of DOMA, opening the way for national recognition of equal protection under law for same-sex couples.
38% of the American population is now living in jurisdictions that approve same-sex marriage, and many consider national acceptance to be inevitable. But I will not hold my breath. In New Mexico, a state Supreme Court ruling may soon confirm the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, but still, 29 states prohibit it in their constitutions and four forbid it by law. None of these will be easy to reverse. Other federal court challenges to these are in the works; none of them will be decided swiftly.
The LGBT community has entered a season of waiting like Advent.
We can learn how to wait well from this ancient Christian period of expectation. What stands out to me in the celebration of Advent is the way Christians engage in active waiting—waiting that drives us forward toward the anticipated goal. Advent is not just sitting around.
The Bible passage with the theme most associated with Advent is Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). He compares the kingdom of God with ten maidens who are waiting for the bridegroom to lead them into the marriage feast. Five of them simply show up and wait. The other five think ahead and make sure they have extra oil for their lamps in case the bridegroom comes later than expected. When he arrives, the first five have to get more oil and so are left out of the banquet.
Jesus concludes the story with a warning echoed in Mark 13:35-36 and Luke 19:11-27, “Watch for you do not know the day or the hour.” J.S. Bach planted this passage firmly in Advent with the Cantata known as “Sleepers, Awake,” sung traditionally in these days before Christmas.
We all watched and waited for Christmas when I was a child. It was an active waiting with making presents for our parents in school, rehearsing the pageant at church, getting the tree and the decorations ready for Christmas Eve.
As we watch for the fulfillment of marriage equality across our nation, there is much we can do.
In many states, like mine, there are still significant steps needed to reach the freedom to marry. In addition, we have no statewide non-discrimination act in Pennsylvania that protects LGBT people from discrimination in housing or employment. It is time to organize for its adoption.
I am thrilled that Equality Pennsylvania is drawing more and more people into lobbying to pass this non-discrimination act into law. This will build momentum toward the effort to repeal our statute against the marriage of same-sex couples, and hopefully, it will lay the foundation for future work toward LGBTQ equality.
If your state has secured these freedoms, then see how you can help those like mine that do not.
There are many good things that have brought us this far: President Obama’s endorsement in 2012, sustained organizing in the states and the District of Columbia where laws have been passed and referenda beat back, and, most of all, the courageous public coming out of couples and families whose lives shine with all the qualities we recognize as marriage, to name just a few.
And there is a good way to go! We cannot afford to sit and wait. Let the church lead the way in this effort!
Working for non-discrimination laws for LGBT people can be something we all work for together. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has supported such protections since 1978. To me, non-discrimination seems like something that the whole church can support.
The left, right and center in the Church Universal can work to protect the vulnerable.
We know how to wait actively for Christmas. We are practiced in the spiritual discipline of active waiting. Let’s light the way!
Image via flickr user Jürgen Mangelsdorf