December 5, 2018 at 12:02 pm EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Reclaiming Advent: a queer perspective
Advent, gay news, Washington Blade

A church Advent wreath features five candles — one each on the periphery for the four Sundays before Christmas, then the center candle representing Jesus, is lit on Christmas Eve. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

It’s easy as an LGBT person to brush off the seasons and holy days of the Christian faith. So much church teaching over the years has been used to condemn gay expression in any form, it’s understandable that many of us choose to eschew religion altogether. 

But straight or queer, life will eventually bite you in the ass and it’s helpful to have some stuff in your took kit with which to work. As Janet said on “The Velvet Rope,” “you must learn to water your spiritual garden.” It’s so great that there are Christian denominations that don’t obsess over patriarchy and anti-LGBT scriptural interpretation. Sadly, they’re often the smaller, fledgling ones, but hey — they’re there!

I love all the seasons of the church year, but have found special meaning in the four Sundays of Advent. The dates vary based on how Christmas falls, but they’re always the four Sundays prior to Dec. 25. This year, it started Dec. 2. Advent two is this weekend — Dec. 9. Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday is Advent three and is Dec. 16. Advent four is Dec. 23. The official color is purple for altar coverings and clergy attire but rose (a combination of Advent purple and Christmas white) is permitted/encouraged on Advent three, a Sunday of brief respite from the more somber and preparatory nature of the season. 

Several gay organists I know jokingly call Gaudete Sunday (and its Lenten counterpart Laetare Sunday, also rose) “gay Sunday” since clergy typically don pink that day. It’s almost as if the legion of closet cases (especially in the Catholic Church) finally let their gay out a bit, just on that one Sunday. 

But there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding Advent. Some people think it’s just a big countdown to Christmas that gets a little more “Christmasy” the closer you get to the big day. That’s actually not the case at all and in many formal churches, Christmas carols are not sung at all until Christmas Eve since they don’t complement the Advent liturgies. 

It can be a little jarring if you’re not used to it. The rest of the world — especially retail — seems to put up Christmas stuff earlier and earlier each year while the church keeps everything Christmas related at bay ’til Christmas Eve. We’ve also kinda lost the concept of the traditional 12 days of Christmas. Many folks start taking down their lights and trees right after New Year’s, but the Christmas season doesn’t officially end until Jan. 5 (the day before Epiphany), but even that has elements of what we traditionally think of as the Christmas season with the story of the Magi representing the manifestation of Christ. 

Ever notice on the “I Love Lucy” Christmas episode, they’re putting up their tree on Christmas Eve after Little Ricky has gone to bed? This was a common practice as well in the ‘50s and prior — Santa supposedly brought the tree and it wasn’t seen until Christmas morn. But with fake trees being more and more common, people tend to put them up earlier and earlier and Christmas and Advent get blurred even more.

The most enduring symbol of Advent is the wreath with five candles — three purple, one rose and a center candle that’s white representing Christ. One is lit each Sunday of the season (the rose candle on Advent three) and the Christ candle is finally lit on Christmas Eve. 

Advent has also taken on a more warm-fuzzy feel in recent decades as well with some church leaders deciding — I’ve never been able to trace how/when this tomfoolery got started — we needed a theme for each of the four Sundays: one (hope), two (peace), three (joy) and four (love) and in some rites, even blue (heresy I say!) altar coverings and chasubles are worn to distinguish from the more somber Lenten (purple) season. 

Of the themes, three is the only one that has any semi-historical validity as the traditional entrance antiphon for that Sunday is “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Advent songs in hymnals from 100 years ago have titles like “Trembling Before Thine Awful Throne.” An old Episcopalian book I have from the ‘50s says, “In advent we remember the four last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell.” I really wish those were the four candles and the priest would be forced to say, “And now, here to light the death candle or the hell candle is the such-and-such family.” 

We’ve seen small blips of gay believers reclaiming church traditions. A few years ago, a gay-affirming church made the mark of the cross in glitter ashes on foreheads on Ash Wednesday. I say go for it if you feel an urge to partake in such festivities. Anything that sends the message that we LGBT believers have just as much right in the sacraments as anybody else — especially to anti-gay behemoths like the Roman Catholic Church — is probably a good thing. I just cringe a bit at the total middle finger to tradition an act like that evokes. 

I mean, yeah, we’re gay. We’ve been flipping off tradition since day one, whenever that was. I find it almost more subversive, however, to be out and proud while maintaining our use and place among the traditional elements and rubrics of the church. To me, that form of reclaiming says more. We’ve got just as much right to be here as you.

But aside from all that — for I don’t honestly think the historical Christ cared about such matters and could have even been queer himself, who knows — Advent feeds my soul because it’s anti-commercialism, it’s anti-Christmas creep, it’s anti-greed, it’s anti-holiday stress, it’s anti-hearing “Winter Wonderland” for the 9,000th time in every store you walk into, it’s all those things and more. Christmas will come —  but all in good time, my pretty. These things must be handled delicately. 

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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