Let No One Be Left in the Field
For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College. The liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s reflection is by Craig A. Ford, Jr., a doctoral candidate in Theological Ethics at Boston College.
At first glance, Advent might seem to be a season designed to mess with our notion of time. Advent, we hear frequently, is about waiting, about expecting. These words, at least for me, don’t strike up images that imply a lot of activity: waiting and expecting, for me, conjure up scenes in which activity is temporarily suspended–like sitting in a doctor’s office, or waiting on a crucial email you need from a colleague in order to complete a project.
On the other hand, everything about our daily lives during this time of year seems to be in a state of consumer frenzy, amplified by the compulsion to shop and buy presents, to prepare dinners, to host parties, to send out Christmas cards. This madness is the furthest possible thing from waiting; it seems, instead, like racing.
But, if we let the readings for this first week of Advent grab our attention for a few moments, I think we’ll see that the impression of Advent as a sort of liturgical waiting room is inaccurate. And they certainly don’t advocate for Advent to be a time consumed in buying the latest and the greatest new gadgets. Instead, today’s scriptures point out that we need to be engaged in different sorts of activities.
This alternative impression comes into view most clearly when we go through the readings backwards. Jesus’ words to us in the Gospel invite listeners not into a story where people are sitting on their hands, but instead into a story where people are going about the daily rhythms of their lives completely oblivious to the Gospel’s demands. From here, the arrival of the reign of God is dramatized as the sudden disappearance of some of those closest to us. “Two men will be out in the field,” Jesus says, “One will be taken, and one will be left” (Matt. 24:40).
But no one should be left in the field. Our job as Christians is to include everyone, and this is the activity in which Advent demands that we engage.
What does this sort of work entail? It entails our going about the business of opening ourselves to each other. It entails the courage not to retreat into ourselves beyond the demands of self-care. (We should never discount self-care, including everything that’s required in order for us to feel healthy and be willing to extend ourselves in service to others once again, such as cups of coffee with friends, long walks, and disconnections from social media.) Our work entails trying to live a non-exclusive Gospel, where we become ambassadors of welcome to each other. Paul summarizes this in the second reading as the act of putting on Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14), which we know from elsewhere in Scripture is identical to taking in, providing for–in a word, loving–our neighbor (1 Jn. 4:20).
This work is not easy. And for those who us who identify as LGBT, as queer, or as gender non-conforming Catholics, this type of activity will seem downright unfair. After all, why should we expect to open ourselves up to others such as our own bishops who continue to use the hurtful language of “the truth about man and woman, and the unique bond of marriage they form”? (What such a statement obscures is the actual truth that no relationship hallowed by the presence of love can afford to be excluded from the Church, the very community animated by love, the bond of the Holy Spirit.)
Moreover, the prospect of President-elect Donald Trump in the United States exacerbates these negative messages, as Trump’s presence in the public forum has validated the homophobic and transphobic sentiments of some of his supporters. These supporters, in turn, are making these sentiments public in a way that causes many of us to fear for our safety, especially if we live in states marked by that do not have policies protecting LGBT, queer, and gender non-conforming persons.
But this work of opening ourselves to all is nevertheless the call of the Gospel. This is the work of Advent, of waiting for the arrival of Christ. We must pray for God to strengthen us in this work. For lying on the other side of this work is the presence of justice and the presence of peace. The illustration of Isaiah has captured many hearts: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is. 2:4). Will it capture ours?
We queer Christians know that we cannot afford to perpetuate exclusion. This Advent, may we dedicate ourselves to no longer leaving anyone–friend or foe, beloved or bigot–in the field.
A good and inspiring meditation.
For Christians, Advent creates in the person a curious juxtaposition, an apparent contradiction, what G. K. Chesterton would call a paradox, that is, “truth standing on its head”.
Advent means both “coming” AND “arrival”. It harks back to the Old Testament’s promise of a Messiah and the fulfilment of this promise in the New Testament. So for the Christian at Advent, there is waiting for that which has already arrived. It’s a reminder that God is with his people, even in his promise to be with them. A reminder that there is no past, present and future with God, but only an eternal present of love’s paternal care.
What might this mean for LGBT folk, especially those more at risk of homophobic abuse and rejection, even by their clergy? It’s a reassurance that the grace to love (“to open ourselves up”, as Craig said), even those who harass or persecute us, is already in the promise of God to be with his people: to be with each, and every one, of you.
Inspiring – thanks for the sharing