Advent is observed in many ways within Christian faith traditions. Faith communities light candles on Advent wreaths, share in daily Advent calendars, and read special Advent devotions.
Advent is the season of preparation and anticipation observed just before Christmas. 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 biblical texts in worship that emphasize this dual expectation—of Jesus’ birth and his second coming. The season of Advent embodies both historical and future-oriented expectations. In both senses, the coming of Jesus is understood to bring forth the reign of God’s justice and peace. Other faith traditions might refer to this as the “beloved community” or tikkun olam.
The season of Advent—particularly in its scriptural readings—offers a glimpse into the radical nature of this reign. In congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the scriptural passages read during Advent, express yearning 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, Advent scriptures repeatedly implore worshipers to “Beware, keep alert” (Mark 13:33) and to examine their behavior, living as if Christ were to return at any moment. They suggest that living in such a way involves seeking and embodying the love, peace, and justice that Christ’s return will usher into the world. In book of 2 Peter, the author asks, “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). In other words, how are we called to live as an Advent people? A few lines down, the text 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 another Advent reading, Paul instructs the believers in Rome 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).
During the season of Advent, scripture readings invite Christians to seek, actively participate in, and embody the justice, reconciliation, and peace that God’s reign will bring about.
In the Advent spirit of bringing about a more just world, faith communities are engaging in prayer, education, and action around the upcoming Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case. The case involves a Colorado bakery that refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple celebrating their marriage and is seeking a constitutional right to discriminate against the couple on the basis of the bakery owner’s religious beliefs.
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. We are observing in this weekend of prayer because it is our faith that calls us to support 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 leopards 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 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 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 the questions at the heart of this case. For me and many Christians, creating a more just society means proclaiming that God’s reign on earth includes justice and civil rights for LGBTQ people.