Happy Advent, Reader! This is a balm for me this year, to return to this time of waiting and being present in the hope of Christ’s birth. It is important to me to observe it not only in my offline life but also here with you. However, I bend to the reality of being in seminary; so, instead of my usual habit of observing Advent on this blog through the lens of various Christmas carols, I’m using this space to share a project assigned to me in my Women and Religion class—a challenge to engage the question of women’s religion and to create something that represents the fruits of that engagement. I’ve written an Advent devotional corresponding to the four weeks and then Christmas Day (which is on a Sunday this year, which makes me terrifically happy) and I will be posting that through this season. It is, I admit, a departure from my usual style because I am writing it for a specific course; I welcome, as ever, your commentary on it. Please know that I mean this for both men and women, so don’t feel as though I’m leaving you out, Reader. No matter your gender, you will encounter women and religion—and the Spirit will be with you in each encounter, delighting in the diversity of Her creation.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
(Romans 13:11-14, ESV)
It is the first week of Advent, the beginning of the Church’s year and a time of waiting for the celebration of Christ’s birth into the world.
Women know something about waiting.
Women through history have waited for recognition, have waited for equality, have waited for respect, have waited for a sense of safety, have waited for not only culture but the Church to see the gifts and talents they have to offer. In this season of Advent where new political realities have already come to the United States and all over the world, many women feel their waiting for all of this has been prolonged yet again. They feel that the slouch toward Bethlehem suddenly got longer—or was halted in the middle of the road entirely. This first week of Advent brings the word “hope,” lighting the first candle to show us that the darkness is never complete. But what hope does God’s Church offer to women, the often voiceless participants at the very heart of the institution? What hope does God offer when it seems that we are waiting for liberation that will never come?
Hope comes in that single candle flame. Hope comes in knowing that the fight is not over, that this is a new year and a new beginning, that neither we nor God are done with the vision of a world that recognizes, respects, and encourages both men and women. Hope comes as Church leaders like Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne call for the traditional guard of evangelicalism to step aside and create space for women, for people of color, for the new generations, for all who are not currently being heard. Their recent editorial in the New York Times, The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead, asserts that “we are not willing to let our faith be the collateral damage of evangelicalism” by excluding the voices God has called to speak.
Hope comes in devotionals like Fuck This Shit that refuse to be quiet or “lady-like” about the outrageous grace of God permeating a world that seems darker than ever before. Hope comes in the ongoing conversation of gender and racial justice sparked by #StayWokeAdvent, a tag originally created in 2014 as a response to the outrage after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Hope comes in the call to everyday action through this season to change the world one person at a time, laid out in calendars like this:
Perhaps, for the women of the Church battered by the destructive force of a patriarchal system built into our religion and now reinforced in our representatives, hope comes from disengaging. Hope comes from finding the people who respond to you as the purposeful creation you are. Hope comes from privileging time with them over those who do not honor your value. Hope comes from refusing to continue walking in the fear created by those who see only flesh and object; hope comes from waking into the fervent belief that God outlasts all governments. In this season of Advent we wait, but it is not passive. We wait in the active belief that God has come and the grounded hope that God will return. Our year hinges on a spectacular birth made possible by a woman and her willingness to bear the impossible to birth the incredible. We wait fully awakened, shaking the sleep from our eyes and the lethargy from our limbs to stand and say we have hope in the God Who made us, in the promise that righteousness will reign.
Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, wrote into the tension of waiting in just such a time as this:
Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake….We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God….We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual….So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment.
May our hope layer itself as the armor of the light as we step into this expectation, this waiting, this Advent.