Advent Week Three: O Tannenbaum

This is definitely one of those songs I don’t think about much at Christmas because I hated singing it when I was growing up.  But it popped up in a service at church recently with decidedly Christian lyrics.  Usually it’s a song about the lovely evergreen that teaches us to keep going, life is ever-renewing, that sort of thing, but this new spin talked about the evergreen as God’s creation and celebrated “how richly God has decked thee.”  The tree, because it’s always around, served as witness to Jesus’ birth and reminds us of the miracle of that renewal as well as showing us how to stand fast in our trust of what God can do.  Okay, I can work with that.

snowy pine trees 1This is originally a German tune from the 16th century—at least, the music is.  The lyrics seem to be as scattered as the needles of such a tree at the end of the Christmas season (don’t tell me you haven’t found them hiding behind the living room hutch in March).  But they all agree on this being a loving serenade of the Christmas tree, the tannenbaum (which is German for “fir tree,” a name we retain even though most modern Christmas trees are spruce).  The concept of the tree as we know it has been around for a while but was cemented into the celebration of the holiday in 19th century England, mostly by the atmosphere that birthed and then celebrated Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Fortunately we no longer put live candles on the tree as the lighting instruments—lot of fires in flammable houses from that practice.

(It’s a little weird to have a song that celebrates the power of living via a tree that we cut down [kill] in order to put in our houses, but no one asked me.)

While I do still dislike the song itself, I really like this new concept of its call to faithfulness for us.  The last stanza (in some versions) has the couplet “Thou bidst us true and faithful be / And trust in God unchangingly.”  Kind of a lot to put on a poor tree, but then the Old English poets wrote a whole thing about the tree that got made into a cross and its thoughts on the matter, so I guess just acting as example is fine.  (It’s called The Dream of the Rood, by the way, and is one of my favorite OE poems.)

Christmas, in the Christian faith, is so much about what God is doing—that’s part of why I like Advent because it’s about what we are doing.  We are waiting, preparing, hoping and dreaming and sighing and living into this ever-renewing promise of life and life abundantly.  Since I’m a person who puts her tree up as soon as possible (but not until after Thanksgiving, of course; mixing the holidays is a cardinal sin), I can definitely count this as an Advent piece.  Like the tree that stays patiently green while the snow and the rain rest on its needles, I wait as my living self in this Advent space for the Christ to be born—although I’m usually a lot less patient than the tree.  After all, I don’t live nearly as long.  (Just so you know, Reader, I’m sparing you from the tangent on Ents that’s going on in my head right now, so be glad of that.)  But I, too, am called to be “true and faithful” as well as green—vibrant, engaged, alive—in the winter.  (That’s a little easier for me than some considering winter is my favorite season, but I think we can both make the metaphorical leap to the wintry times when it’s a little harder to be green.)  I make zero promises as to the trusting “unchangingly” bit, but to return to the God Who has also decked me out pretty richly with the faith that this birth changes everything may be something I can do.

Especially when sitting in the lovely glow of lights on the Christmas tree.

 

Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.  Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.  (Hebrews 10:22-23, CEB)

Advertisements

Advent, Week Two: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

I know, I know, I missed week one.  I’m sorry about that, but glad to inform you that I have finished classes and one of my four finals for this semester.  By Wednesday I will be done done done with this term and that will mark the halfway point of this degree and sweet Jesus but this can’t finish quickly enough.  I’m sorry for both of us, Reader, that this blogging journey into seminary has been so frustrating and sorrowful when the journey leading into that call was so frustrating and hopeful.  We shall see what next semester brings.

On to the song, which you may be rather confused by because this is definitely not a song that makes the list of Christmas CDs or Spotify playlists.  Technically Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is not a Christmas hymn—in the United Methodist hymnal, it’s in the “Eucharist” section (and its connection to that has apparently stirred no small amount of controversy; here’s a really good overview of why tying the Incarnation and the Eucharist together can get tricky, if you’re into that sort of thing).  But it is, in its way, a Christmas song, filled with shock and wonder at the Incarnation.  “King of kings, Yet born of Mary, / As of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, In human vesture” begins the second verse.  The whole thing is just flummoxed by the God of everything coming to be in human form and is fairly demanding that we and all of creation stand in the dumbfounded awe that deserves.

It’s a patchwork quilt of a piece:  the lyrics are first found in the Divine Liturgy of St. James from the fourth century, so these words (originally Greek) are about 1,700 years old.  The tune is much newer—only about 400 years old, and the combination didn’t happen until about a hundred years ago.  Positively a toddler in hymn years!  But it has that sort of solemn majesty to it (especially when done with a choir and organ) that comes with a lot of Advent hymns, the weight of it settling on your solar plexus as you realize God was born.

I mean, when I sit down with that fact my mind kind of gets blown, and I’ve been a Christian for at least ten years now.  But at the heart of who we are in this faith is a God Who climbed into human skin, Who saw with human eyes and heard with human ears, Who grew grey hair and had callouses and headaches.  We have a God Who touched things, who felt the roughness of unhewn wood and the chill of cellar-kept wine on His tongue.  We have a God Who stretched newly-formed fingers into the broad palm of His mother and chuckled at being alive and discovering things like toes.

Reader, the Incarnation is SO INCREDIBLY WEIRD.

pia15416-1440x900Because there’s all that and inside that somehow is GOD.  God, Who spoke the Earth into being; Who took a handful of mud and a spare rib and created people.  That God decided sure, Let’s go through the mess of humanizing Myself by putting Myself together one cell at a time in Mary’s womb and then tumbling into the world in a mass of blood and fluid and hay that stuck to everything, screaming to the world that I have come but I can’t talk yet.  That God decided to learn how to walk.  That God wanted to know what hunger felt like, and didn’t go hungry for a day like a vacation but lived as a vagabond and fasted for weeks; wanted to know what pain felt like and didn’t hit His hand with a hammer but allowed Himself to be scourged and beaten.

Because that God wanted to hang out with us so badly that He broke death in half by living.

I don’t…I don’t even know what to do with that information except exactly what this hymn asks:  keep silence.  No freaking wonder “the host of Heaven spreads its vanguard” and “the six winged seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye, / Veil their faces to the presence”.  Who can stand in the presence of such love and sacrifice?  Who can say anything other than “alleluia” when faced with such devotion?

Come, fellow mortal.  Journey deeper into Advent with me, following the Baptist who calls out to us that One greater than he is coming—and boy howdy was he right.

 

But the Lord is in his holy temple.  Let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20, CEB)

Christmas Day: Women and Religion

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

    On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
You have made the nation great;
    you have increased its joy.
They rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest,
    as those who divide plunder rejoice.
As on the day of Midian, you’ve shattered the yoke that burdened them,
    the staff on their shoulders,
    and the rod of their oppressor.
Because every boot of the thundering warriors,
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned, fuel for the fire.
A child is born to us, a son is given to us,
    and authority will be on his shoulders.
    He will be named
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be vast authority and endless peace
    for David’s throne and for his kingdom,
    establishing and sustaining it
    with justice and righteousness
    now and forever.

The zeal of the Lord of heavenly forces will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7, CEB)

Merry Christmas, Reader!  It has been quite the journey this particular Advent; now we come to the “payoff,” so to speak.  Christ is born—alleluia!  The Church year has restarted and soon the calendar one will as well—but what shall happen to the women when Advent ends and the Church follows the very much male Jesus through His life?

Today’s particular passage from Isaiah, besides being a pair of great pieces from the Messiah oratorio by Handel, is applicable not least because there are so many ways in which we walk in darkness.  From the context of this female-affirming Advent series, we walk in the darkness of those who continue to overlook the gifts and presence of women within and outside of the Church.  We walk in the darkness of humorous nativities that still don’t challenge the lack of women in our faith stories (you can have an iPhone but not a female angel, really?).  We walk in the darkness of those who are still arguing God intended women to be utterly submissive to men.  We walk in the darkness of clouded glass ceilings.  We walk in the darkness of having to choose and defend pronouns for God as though God actually has a gender and inclusivity of both “He” and “She” somehow challenges God’s ability to be God.  We walk in the darkness of inequity and injustice.

And oh, how good to see a great light.

In this passage Isaiah hails one who made the nation great—long before red hats ever proclaimed the campaign slogan, Cyrus of Persia sent Israelites back home to rebuild their temple after having been in exile for hundreds of years.  Christians of the early Church took the passage and remade it to recognize the risen Christ who would make all nations great in shattering the binding yokes and oppressors’ rods.  In this new place with this new ruler will be justice and righteousness flowing like the rivers Amos invoked in his prophecies.

feminism_fair_enidePart of that justice, part of that righteousness, is the Church’s commitment to honor its people through the year.  Mary and Elizabeth fade back into the Christian tapestry now that Jesus is born, but their voices are not silenced.  Mary continues to appear in Jesus’ life as an important figure, and other Marys and a Martha and many nameless women walk across that world-changing stage.  Women do not drop out of the narrative, then or now; their voices continue to be important, their gifts continue to deserve development, and their place in the work of bringing God’s reign into human life continues to matter.

So how can the Church work into this justice?  Listen to women’s stories; hear their voices without trying to correct them or reshape them.  If you are a woman and you feel comfortable doing so, tell your story; speak of what religion and faith mean to you and the places within your tradition where you find acceptance.  Actively seek to place women in leadership roles—and women, do not settle for not having them.  Learn about the damaging history the Church has with women and pay attention to the ways that those words and actions continue in the present day.  Challenge fellow Christians not to let passive sexism slide.  Challenge yourself to call out those who make crass comments or jokes to you.  Pray for guidance in relationships with those identifying as female.  Read through Scripture, paying attention to the places women are and aren’t.  Love the women around you, whether as a woman yourself or as an ally and supporter.  Recognize that Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, did not turn away from women, and neither can we.

Merry Christmas.  May the love, the joy, the hope, and the peace of the season go with you to your places of celebration.  May the coming year truly bring us closer to the increased joy of a land on which light has dawned and women and men are both understood to be gifted and called into the priesthood of all believers equipped to go and bring that light to a dark world waiting for good news.

Advent, Week Four: Love

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary.  When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!”  She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you.  Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father.  He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”

The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.  Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant.Nothing is impossible for God.”

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.  (Luke 1:26-38, CEB)

What a loaded word “love” is for women.  “Love” often means affection, or lust, or attraction, or attachment; for “love” to mean something deep, lasting, empowering, and healthy is, unfortunately, somewhat rare in modern culture all over the world.  This last Sunday of Advent takes all of the waiting of the season, all of the stress and anxiety and wonder and weariness, and hands back love.

historyboys8_queensjoyThe language of love is part and parcel of the Christian Church—for love Christ died, for love Christ rose; Christians are commanded to love God, one another, and self.  But love—true love, and not in the Disney sense of “true” love—is hard.  It takes work.  It takes vulnerability.  It takes hope, and peace, and joy, and frustration, and communication, and dedication, and change.  Love may be something into which people fall, but it must be something in which they actively try to remain.  Christian love asks huge things, demands huge things in the name of incredibly huge love from God Herself.

What does the Church demand?  One of the many things that prompted me to do this series addressing women in the Church from the position of a woman in the Church was the shameful and horrifying things said in the last year toward women and the silent allowance of much of the Church in response.  Christianity’s track record with women is not exactly lovely, whether it be the early Church father Tertullian calling women the “gate to hell” in his treatise On the Apparel of Womenor the description of women as “defective and misbegotten” by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  Such destruction is not limited to the long-forgotten ages:  Pat Robertson, a Southern Baptist evangelist, claimed in 1992 that the feminist agenda was not about equality but “it is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”  And just this past election cycle in America, many churches and church leaders stayed silent when the man who is now the president-elect called women bimbos, accused them of being at fault for their husbands’ infidelities, rated women’s value as people on their weight and physical appearance, and actively bragged about sexual assault.  (The Telegraph has pulled together a long timeline of his misogyny and predatorial nature, in case you’re curious about how far it goes.)

There is no love whatsoever in any Church leader or layperson not standing against this systemic dehumanization of women.  There is no excuse for such language or actions to ever be condoned by those who call themselves Christians.  This Advent, the Church must be a bearer of such incredible and deep love for women simply because they are God’s creations that there should be no doubt as to women’s worth.  Many, however, refuse to take on this direct an action, insisting there are other ways the Church shows love and support.

Love must be said.  It is most often shown in works, true, but to voice love for another has a power all its own.  To make the claim of love in front of “God and everybody,” as the saying goes, is to be vulnerable—and the Church is currently not being vulnerable.  Instead, women are told to bear their own vulnerability by the elusiveness of Christians who will not stand up and declare the awareness that women are purposefully and beautifully created, meant from the beginning to be part of humanity’s story in all its twists and turns.

Today’s passage, known in liturgy as the Annunciation, is one of the more famous stories of Christianity.  Much of the focus is on the virgin birth and its impossibility made possible—yet verse 38 is perhaps the most powerful.  It was only after Mary agreed to this child that Gabriel left.  He waited for her consent.  In arguably the most pivotal moment of God’s interaction with humans, the free will of a woman was more important than God’s plans.  The faith and acceptance of Mary made Christianity as it is possible.

Was there a plan B had she said no?  Likely.  But the Church needs to take away from this story this Advent—and women, also, need to hear—that God Herself valued the voice of this woman enough to wait for her answer.  That is love, that recognition that force or absence of choice would have ruined the whole of the religion as far as hope or joy or peace or a feeling of safety or belonging for half of the human population goes.  That listening is something that we of the Church must do, now more than ever, whether it be recognizing as Alice Churnock writes that Christians are also sinners and there are stories of abuse we must be willing to hear because faith must be a place of healing; or whether it be refusing to talk over women who speak of pain within the Church as though their experience is unreal simply because not everyone shares it.

Know that you are loved, Reader.  Know that who you are, no matter your gender, is celebrated by God because you live as Her creation.  For you God made God’s self vulnerable enough to risk rejection; for love God was born; for love God lives.  Hold fast to that, in this and every season.

Advent, Week Three: Joy

 Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
    He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” (Luke 1:46-55, CEB)

As the Christmas advertisements become ever more frequent and the music proclaiming “Joy to the World” looped on the radio stations starts to become a little stale, let the Church be at the forefront of declaring that joy is not the same thing as happiness.  Psychologies, a British women’s magazine, describes joy as “more consistent” than happiness and “cultivated internally.  It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.”  This is not to say that joy and happiness are mutually exclusive or that either joy or happiness is somehow bad; it is to say that they draw from different sources, and as this third week of Advent calls us to joy we must be aware that that is not the same thing as telling us to be happy.

Women, in this season fraught with Sexy Santa Helpers imagery, the misuse of the Marian narrative to tell all females they are incomplete without children, and cultural stereotypes that expect a perfect Christmas dinner made by a perfect hostess for everyone who may cross the threshold, may not feel all that happy.  (The frustration around the expectations of women are somewhat painfully addressed in a Saturday Night Live skit with Emma Stone.)  They may not even feel all that joyful.  And that is a real and honest place to be in this Advent season.  Happiness is not what the Church should be asking of women; it should be enabling them, however, to experience joy.

This third Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday, a name taken from the beginning of the liturgy in the Latin Catholic mass; “gaudete” means “rejoice.”  Mary’s hymn (today’s Scripture reading) is known as the Magnificat (from the opening line in Latin, “Magnificat anima mea Dominum,” “My soul magnifies the Lord”) and the text is pervaded with a sense of joy even in the uncertainty of Mary’s pregnancy and its complications.  This Sunday reminds us that this season, women are at the forefront:  in Advent we hear of Mary, we hear of Elizabeth, we hear of women in Jesus’ family tree and say in this season, at least, women are valued by the Church.  Joy to the women! an Advent devotional proclaims, and indeed this season calls out the joy—the deep wellspring bubbling to the surface happiness—of recognizing the gifts women bring not only to culture but to the Church itself.

Yet not everyone recognizes these gifts, telling women they have no place in Church leadership despite the stories of their grace in ministry like A Day in the Life of a Female Pastor’s Husband.  At this time of the holidays, also, not everyone recognizes the need for agency in sharing those gifts and sharing of selves; pressure on both women and men to go to familial structures that may be painful and damaging in the false name of the importance of genetic connection makes many dread the season.  There is no joy in pretending happiness at the expense of your own peace and no one who loves you should ever ask you to do that which steals your joy or makes you feel unsafe.  As Mary says, “In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior;” from her very spirit that animates her comes the ability to rejoice, not from someone else telling her she needs to feel joy.  She is now exalted, mindfully part of the story of Christmas, of Christianity itself, because she was given the choice to say yes, I will be part of this.

Joy, like hope and peace, takes work.  It takes trust and space and time and choice; it takes an awareness of the self that may be a difficult thing to hold.  In a world and a Church that often tells women to smile, reinforcing the idea that women are only as useful as their beauty or cheerfulness, we who claim this faith must advocate for and work toward the reality where joy is what is asked and what is cultivated, where the status of the soul is far more important than a facial expression.  This season, find the things that bring you joy, and be unapologetic about claiming them as God’s great gift from Her own wellspring.

Advent, Week Two: Peace

Comfort, comfort my people!
    says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
        and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
    that her penalty has been paid,
    that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!

A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
    Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
    and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
    Uneven ground will become level,
    and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
    and all humanity will see it together;
    the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”

A voice was saying:
    “Call out!”
And another said,
    “What should I call out?”
All flesh is grass;
    all its loyalty is like the flowers of the field.
The grass dries up
    and the flower withers
    when the Lord’s breath blows on it.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass dries up;
    the flower withers,
    but our God’s word will exist forever.

Go up on a high mountain,
    messenger Zion!
Raise your voice and shout,
    messenger Jerusalem!
Raise it; don’t be afraid;
    say to the cities of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
Here is the Lord God,
    coming with strength,
    with a triumphant arm,
    bringing his reward with him
    and his payment before him.
Like a shepherd, God will tend the flock;
    he will gather lambs in his arms
    and lift them onto his lap.
    He will gently guide the nursing ewes.  (Isaiah 40:1-11, CEB) 

No justice, no peace!” we have heard many times this year.  “Peace” has come to mean “silence,” “acceptance,” “docility.”  “Peace” has come to mean not the absence of strife but the ignorance of it, the half-closed eyes that cannot or will not see it. The women of the Church do not want that kind of peace.

“Peace” is that which is often “passed” in church services, a synonym for greeting the others seeking peace in that hour.  Yet how often do we bring peace into a service, no matter our gender, in the heartache of a broken world?  How often do we have it to give?  If we are not at peace, if we are not still within our souls, how shall we pass anything but turmoil to our neighbors?  Shall we simply sit silent while greetings flow around us?  For women, the silence is both no option and the only option.  “Peace” is what many say as a way of saying, “stop talking.”  The chafing bonds of Paul’s injunctions spoken in a different time of specific context close women’s mouths in many denominations and they are told to be at peace, to have faith in this God-blessed structure.  “Peace” has become shorthand for a false tranquility that many women are told to feel so as not to be overly emotional, so as not to be disruptive, so as not to overturn the idea that women are somehow inherently gentler, more peaceful.

The Church must stop conflating peace with submission.  The Church, here in the expectant waiting of Advent with breaths caught in hope of all that the coming birth might do, must comfort its people, must “speak compassionately to Jerusalem” and to every city, to every nation, to every woman that “her compulsory service is ended.”  The Church must recognize that all are invited to see the glory of God, that there is neither male nor female in Christ, that the vision of the heavens is to see the valleys and the downtrodden raised up.

Peace is not silence.  Peace is not acquiescence.  Peace is not the status quo remaining unexamined or unchanged.  Peace is the active inclusion of the full body of Christ, peace is the ability to live without fear, peace is the solid truth that equity is part of God’s vision for God’s creation.  Eden was at peace when woman was included and valued; the false hierarchy of the Fall has no place in God’s heaven.  Peace comes when voices are raised to challenge the culture in which the Church exists, taking on the songs of the season like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” because people of faith will not be complicit in the denigration of women’s choices.  Peace comes when male leaders, both lay and ordained, empower women within their congregations to speak God’s word as pastors, liturgists, teachers, and board members. Peace comes when we challenge the sacred texts speaking of sin and “she” in one sentence; peace comes when we teach and learn that women are not inherently more sinful than men no matter how many times female pronouns are attached to wicked cities or abstract ideas.  Peace is something that we make happen; it does not come on its own but requires our midwifery as the people of God actively birthing peace.

Peace cannot be a command from another who does not acknowledge the anger, the sorrow, the pain, the distance held within; peace must be a choice to be calm in our very souls because we actively decide to rest.  Peace comes as shalom, a wholeness of our very selves.  To the women of the Church, to the women of the world who wait in strife this second week of Advent says “peace” not as a directive but as a gift as yet undelivered.  “Peace,” it offers, knowing that peace has not come just yet, that action is still required though weary hearts are worn by the howling winds of all that is not peaceful.

May you find peace because you have chosen, in the full power of your own agency and value, to receive it as the gift of a God fully aware of all that is not at peace yet.  May peace, like hope, be your armor and strength.

Advent, Week One: Hope

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.