“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
Today is Advent 4. I think most people would call that 'the fourth Sunday in Advent', but I'm a priest's daughter, and even before I was that, I was a church insider. This December 17th was the tenth anniversary of my mother's ordination to the priesthood. The process of answering her call took ten years, starting when I was maybe eight years old. While my mother grew in faith, I grew from childhood, to early adolescence, to a troubled teenhood, and then into a fairly dark early womanhood. Darkness is, of course, the heart of the Advent season, the stark backdrop against which Christmas' light is thrown. The Christian year is a story of cyclical darkness broken by bright, intense light. I think I was twelve years old when I told my father that I identified with the deprivations of Lent, and the rending grief of Holy Week more than with Easter itself, and far more than with Christmas. Those of us who experience the Christian faith mixed with a fear of the Christian community are like that. We live in perpetual Advent, preparing ourselves for the coming Christ, never quite ready to step into the light.
Being Episcopalian is fraught with weird compromises – the articles of faith dictate so few of the bounds of our community. None of us believe the same things. No two churches are equally safe, no two communities equally welcoming. My mother was at Seminary while I was in high school, and it was a tumultuous time. Gene Robinson was elected, and the blessing of unions was debated, and the American church and the Global Communion were in vastly different places. Queer Episcopalians were a living Advent, a living Lent, the people of Israel wandering in the desert. There was so much promise, and yet we were so far from the coming of light. I wasn't afraid of the darkness, and I imagine I wasn't alone. We were used to darkness, we'd lived in it for all the long years before, after all. We're born in darkness, we people of invisible difference. It's harsh and it's unnourishing, but we understand it. The turmoil, the terror of Advent, for me, has always been that it ends. I don't understand the light, I don't know what will be out there.
The Christian festivals of light all have one thing in common, that very few people ever acknowledge: they are revelatory. Behold! The child has come, a new truth. Behold! He is risen from the grave, a new truth. Behold! There are queer people among you, and they believe that God loves them. I've never been good at revelations, and I know that that's deeply tied to my sexuality. Revelation is personal: it's vulnerability, it's conflict, it's my skin being stretched out for the whole world to see and touch and cut. Revelation is coming out. Revelation is uncertainty. The terror of the evolving church, the terror of the queer Christian, is inherently a fear of revelation. We do not want to see into our communities' hearts. We do not want to know how much hate might lie there. We do not want to see these people who we know as loving members of the body as threats. Me, I ran.
At the end of high school, I moved to a new country. I no longer had the protection of my mother's position, or the cushioning love of my family. I would have to go out into the tumultuous, confusing, high-contrast Anglican communion and find myself a new church. I would have to risk it all, and walk through darkness until I found the light. I didn't have the nerve. I'm a Christmas and Easter Christian, now. I'd like to turn back, but I am so afraid. As we once again approach Christmas and the turn of the year, I reflect on this. It's Advent 4. We sang O Come, O Come, Emmanuel in church this morning (the first non-Christmas service I've attended in four years). Come, God-with-us, and ransom your captive people, mourning in exile.
Come, Christmas revelation. Maybe this year I'll be ready.