Where Is the Love? An Advent Reflection

This message was originally preached at the Cal-Pac South District Advent Worship Service on Wednesday, December 4th.


What are the symbols of love in your life?

A ring?

Your dog?

Freshly baked bread?

Family?

Like many clergy, the stole takes on some important meaning. It’s a symbol of love for me, though perhaps not in the most traditional of ways.

In 2016, I was a seminary student going to sing at General Conference. I had recently come to understand my own sexuality, and found myself happier than I’d ever been, even though I wasn’t ready to be out yet. My seminary colleagues and I all sported a Reconciling Ministries Network stole, and took the stage to rehearse for our performance. The General Conference director came over to us and said we needed to take the stoles off, in an effort to ‘remain neutral’, he said, or we couldn’t perform. This was the first experience many of my choir members had to the UMC, many of whom were queer. We were angry together and cried together, all of us knowing this was bigger than the stole. This was about love. But we took them off anyways, and as we sang and looked into the crowd, we saw our professors and classmates and dean wearing the same stoles we were told were not okay to wear publicly.

There is the love.

Two years later, I remember sitting by my computer, terrified to send an email requesting a rainbow stole for graduation, a sign that I was part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Would my appointment in Alaska be taken away? What will people say? Will this affect how my Bishop and District Superintendent see my gifts and my call? With the help of a friend who loved me, I hit send anyway, and a month later, I stood at the pulpit sporting my rainbow stole, out for the first time, giving a speech with the same friend who urged me to send that email, days away from flying to my new home and first appointment.

There is the love.

Last February, I returned home from worship after the Special Session, where I had just done my best to preach, serve communion, and be in relationship with people, even though I was hurting. They didn’t know the extent of what that conference meant to me, how badly I didn’t want to be there reading the UMC liturgy that day, but Sunday came anyways. As I walked my dog to the mailbox, I noticed immediately the colorful sticker on the back of a small package. We rushed home and I tore it open to find a rainbow stole from General Conference, and a note from one of my colleagues, reminding me I was loved. “No matter what the church says, you are a child of God”, she wrote.

There is the love.

My last story comes in a very familiar setting for me: the church council table. I was in my last meeting of my previous appointment in Alaska, about ready to pack up and move. Our worship chair, a retired clergywoman with purple hair, brought to the council the idea of going through the reconciling process with our congregation. Immediately, other board members came in with the defense, stating how unnecessary it was, and how welcoming our church is to all people. Why would we do this if we didn’t need to be better at including people? As I sat quietly, trying not to shake from anger, I glanced across the table at our Christian Education chair, a young queer woman of color who had come out to me earlier that year. In one of my least proud moments in ministry, I blurted out “You all have had a queer pastor for a year now, and I haven’t told you because we still have work to do to be inclusive.” That next Sunday, after serving communion with my queer sibling from the church council table, I was presented with, you guessed it, a stole, from the clergywoman with the purple hair.

There is the love.

I share these stories, not to get political in church, God forbid, not to make a statement, but to remind you that no matter what is going on, love is also present. That is my experience and that is my story.

A system that preaches love is not always the system that lets love exist, that lets love in. But we, as Advent people are commissioned to open the doors to let love into those spaces where love is currently being dimmed or suffocated.

It may take some time to find it, and we may need to look for it in different ways, but if I’ve learned anything about Advent, it’s that love is there. We’ve all began to tell the story of Advent in our churches, a story which, if we’re honest, is a little bit brutal and heartbreaking and the journey is tiring. And, despite the worry and exhaustion and injustice, in a few weeks, love will arrive in the form of the risen Christ.

So, I leave you with this. May we look for love in the symbols; the stoles, the cookies, the puppies, the table. May we look for love along the way, and look for love at the destination. May we give ourselves permission to look for love. May you find Christ, the God of love, in all the spaces you inhabit this Advent season.

Amen.

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