Might This Be Joy: LGBTQ People’s Witness to Audacious Love

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

alfred-pang
Alfred Pang

Today’s reflection is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral student in theology and education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. To read Alfred’s previous posts on Bondings 2.0, click here.

I struggled to write this reflection. The central focus of Gaudete Sunday, this Third Sunday of Advent, is the joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but how to write convincingly about joy when it eludes me as I wrestle as a single, gay Catholic away from home with the pain of loneliness?

The long stretches of night and blistering winter cold now encroaching have only deepened my sense of isolation. Doctoral study is terribly long, and all that mental digging has left me craving for companionship. In these days of political anxiety that have left so many bruised, I am muted by and aghast at the bleakness of violence and division consuming our world. In such wearying circumstances when stupefied hearts do not feel free to rejoice, how do I–and how do we as people of faith– properly celebrate Gaudete Sunday?

At least, by God’s grace, there is something in today’s Gospel that could still speak to me. It is a small textual detail: John the Baptist is in prison. Despite being in prison, he hears of the works of Christ and sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Even imprisonment does not deter John from being prayerfully alive to the signs of life he senses in Jesus Christ.

It strikes me that part of being prayerfully alive means engaging our capacity for amazement. If this is so, John exemplifies a posture that challenges us this Gaudete Sunday: in the prisons that we find ourselves – of discouragement, despair, and depression – how might we remain attentive to and discerning of the signs of the times that herald God’s liberating love? How are we invited this Advent to pause and make room for radical amazement at God’s divine life, which is always at work in spite of and through the fragility of human love that can disappoint and has failed?

As the Gospel reminds us, Jesus must be the source of amazement that is reflected in Christian witness. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” What is proclaimed here is that in and through the Incarnation, God will and has come as audacious love that transgresses, subverts and heals.

thevisitationYet, Jesus who reveals God’s sovereignty does something else in this passage: he lifts up the witness of John the Baptist as “more than a prophet,” as the “messenger” that Isaiah prophesied. This mutual confirmation and affirmation between John and Jesus echoes the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-45. John, as a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy upon the greeting of Mary who bears the good news, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Echoing this encounter, joy is the subtext in today’s Gospel.

In these dramas of mutual recognition, I find consolation: that in the midst of my darkness that renders me invisible to myself, God sees and understands. There is also profound strength felt in knowing that God sees our giftedness as LGBTQ persons and calls us out to be fruitful witnesses of an audacious love as siblings, friends, lovers and neighbors. Might this be joy? Is joy the fruit of being fully alive in God who takes delights in us as beloved children, standing with and living within us?

I suspect the joy that we anticipate in Christmas is not based on our own striving to make room for Jesus at all. Rather, it is the joy that comes when we make room for amazement to see that God has chosen to meet us down below in the shoddiness and messiness of the manger. As theologian Karl Barth preached in a Christmas homily to prisoners:

“Down there Jesus Christ sets up his quarters. Even better, he has already done so! Yes, praise be to God for this dark place, for this manger, for this stable in our lives! There we need him, and there he can use each one of us … There he only waits that we see him, recognize him, believe in him, and love him.”[1]

God is nearer to us than we imagine, and for this we can rejoice. Should not we then rejoice?

Still, I find joy ungraspable. Maybe this absence allows me to clear a space in my heart to be attentive and amazed once again so that joy can then grasp me. I stare at the trees shedding their leaves. They stand barren in the blasting cold of winter. Yet, in the crisp sharp air, I stand amazed at the sturdiness of these trees. They do not shiver, but speak back to me the words of Isaiah – “Be strong, fear not!” They remain firm, deepening their roots. I wonder at life on the underside, beneath the ground and in the soil.

This, I suggest, is the call of Advent: to be astonished at and delight in the small signs of life found at the most unexpected places in the bleakness of time. Where there is life, there is God – with the possibility and reality of indefatigable joy, still elusive, but ever graced.

[1] Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, trans. Marguerite Wieser (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 142.

Alfred Pang, December 11, 2016

To read the Advent reflection for the First Sunday, click here, and for the Second Sunday, click here. For all of Bondings 2.0‘s Advent reflections from past years, click here.

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6 thoughts on “Might This Be Joy: LGBTQ People’s Witness to Audacious Love

  1. Friends December 11, 2016 / 3:48 am

    Thank you, Alfred, for this exquisite commentary. I’d like to share with you — and with our readers — an equally deep commentary, which is available in the form of a reading of St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night Of The Soul”. It’s free for open access at the YouTube site. Here’s the direct link:

    I actually prefer the John Frederick Nims translation — some would call it more of an inspired interpretation than a literal translation — but the Nims text doesn’t seem to be available online. So this reading will be more than sufficient. Many of us are feeling betrayed by Pope Francis — whom we previously regarded as a beacon of light shining through the dense (and often morose) fog of a stultified and repressive clerical bureaucracy. St. John of the Cross preceded us to this dark place — but he broke through to an experience of unimaginable love, in which Jesus’ own promises to us are gloriously fulfilled. Let us all strive to share this ultimate blessing with our fellow travelers. As James Taylor suggested, in a wry paraphrase of Paul’s famous words in Second Corinthians:

    Faith hope and love
    Were the abiding gifts
    A holy man left us:
    But love is best of all!

    • Wilhelm Wonka December 11, 2016 / 1:44 pm

      Thanks, Friends, for this stirring link. And Alfred, for your honest reflections.

      One feature in particular is common to both: hope. Without hope, how could any of us endure the troughs? It is because we have hope, through our faith in Christ, that we manage to persevere, in faith, in hope, in love.

  2. Sheila Peiffer December 11, 2016 / 7:04 am

    Thank you for this inspiration! We all need to hear this in these dark times!

    • cherylr774 December 11, 2016 / 11:04 am

      yes, like Sheila I say ‘thank you’ you gave another perspective on the true joy and love we ALL receive as a result of the ‘manger child’……… beyond the conditions being placed continually on all of us especially those of us of the LBGT orientation to feel we are ‘part of the church’ by the Church, we need to see that the ‘roots’ are deep, in Christ, beyond the limits of the Church ‘fathers’

      Cheryl

  3. ermadurk December 24, 2016 / 1:16 pm

    A very engaging and moving reflection. Thank you, Alfred Pang, and may you receive what you need at Christmas.

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