Advent is observed in many ways within Christian faith traditions. Faith communities light candles on Advent wreaths, share in daily Advent calendars, and ready special Advent devotions. Advent is the beginning of the Christian liturgical calendar and precedes the feast of the Incarnation and the season of Christmas, when the birth (or Nativity) of Jesus is celebrated. It is a time of waiting, yearning, hoping, and longing. During Advent, Christians await not only Christmas and the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus but also for Christ’s triumphant return, for a time when Divine Justice will be known on the earth. During this season, many Christians read texts that emphasize this dual expectation—of Jesus’ birth and his second coming. In this way, the Advent liturgy embodies both a historical- and future-oriented expectation. In both senses, the coming of Christ is understood to bring forth the reign of God’s justice and peace.
The season of Advent—in both its scriptural readings and music—offers a glimpse into the radical nature of this reign. Christians long to be joined with God in the person of Jesus. In the scriptural passages read during Advent, this yearning is for the coming of the time when “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). Christians await a time when God shall “judge the poor [with righteousness] and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” and “wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (Isaiah 11:4, 2 Peter 3:13).
In other words, the anticipation of Advent is not dormant. On the contrary, the Advent scriptures repeatedly implore the reader to “Beware, keep alert” (Mark 13:33) and to examine one’s behavior, living as if Christ were to return at any moment. The scriptures suggest that living in such a way involves seeking and embodying the love, peace, and justice that Christ’s return will entail. 2 Peter asks the reader, “what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God?” (2 Peter 3:11-12). A few lines down, 2 Peter offers an answer: “while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by God at peace, without spot or blemish” (2 Peter 3:14). In a passage read during Advent in Revised Common Lectionary Year A, Paul instructs the Romans to “welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you” and to “live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus” (Romans 15: 7,5). In other words, in the anticipation of Advent, Christians are invited seek, actively participate in, and embody the justice, reconciliation, and peace that God’s reign will bring about. Christians are called to ready themselves for God’s return by following the example of John the Baptist, Mary, and Joseph and preparing the way for the Lord.
It is in the spirit of hoping for and participating in a more just world that faith communities are engaging in prayer, education, and action around the upcoming Mastepiece Cakeshop case. The weekend before oral arguments are heard in this case, which is also the first week of Advent, faith communities around the country will be participating in a National Weekend of Prayer for LGBTQ Justice. Sadly, most LGBTQ people do not experience the welcome and harmony described in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Instead, the misuse of religious beliefs as a justification for violence and discrimination are the modern-day lions and wolves threatening the lives and rights of LGBTQ people. Many LGBTQ people are in a constant state of Advent, longing for a time when justice righteousness will be at home on this earth, yearning for a day when they will not have to wonder if they will face discrimination, violence, or injustice because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The season of Advent calls Christian communities to prepare the way for Christ’s return, helping to create a society where God’s justice prevails, where neighbors live together in harmony, and where the marginalized and the lowly are lifted up. Faith communities that wish to live into this call in our present moment cannot be silent as the Supreme Court determines whether or not religion can be used as a justification for discrimination. Advent, a season of longing and striving for justice, is precisely the right time to engage with questions at the heart of this case and of what it means to create a more just society.