"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). (Matthew 1:23 NIV)
Advent is here; the season when we anticipate God’s coming. Readings in churches and in private devotions include passages foretelling the arrival of Jesus as described by Isaiah and other prophets. We sing songs like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel as a way to vent the deep longing of our hearts.
The scriptures are useful because they show us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like those ancient Israelites described in the song, much of Christianity longs for a triumphant king to come. We envision him riding a white steed down from heaven, wielding a sword of righteousness to strike all those whose understanding of faith disagrees with our own. Extremist white evangelical Christianity is particularly invested in this image. They want their white Jesus to bring that angry sword down on the heads of all those they perceive to be doing wrong. All those sinners. All those others. All those LGBTQI+ people who are somehow causing floods, fires and hurricanes.
But just like the ancients who awaited the messiah’s coming, we have the image upside down.
Hear the words of Jesus:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:41-45 NIV)
What does this tell us?
That Emmanuel is your gay sister. He’s your transgender uncle. He’s your bisexual neighbor. He’s the beggar you pass by on the street every day. He’s even the politician you despise.
Jesus Christ was sent as a baby to correct our wildly inaccurate understanding of God. Jesus came as a child from a humble town, grew up to ride a donkey rather than a stallion, and healed rather than destroyed. The religious elites of his day demanded that Jesus could not be the savior; he didn’t follow the rules and he didn’t hate the right people. He didn’t do religion right, and yet the Father said to listen to him.
God still uses this strategy today. He sends us gay, lesbian, and transgender family members and friends who extremist white evangelical Christians claim will burn in hell. And through these LGBTQI+ loved ones, the light of Jesus shines in ways we may find baffling because it is out of line with the idea of God we previously held dear. Encountering these people should force us to evaluate everything we thought about our faith.
That’s what God wanted when he sent Jesus as a baby, and that’s what he wanted when he sent your gay sister.
Emmanuel. God with us.
Here’s a verse from that Advent hymn:
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, And order all things, far and nigh; To us the path of knowledge show, And cause us in her ways to go. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Show us the path of knowledge, Lord, through each LGBTQI+ person you place along our walk.
Suzanne DeWitt Hall is the author of Where True Love Is: An Affirming Devotional for LGBTQI+ Individuals and Their Allies. She also wrote the Rumplepimple books; hilarious illustrated stories featuring a misunderstood doggy hero, his tutu-wearing sidekick cat named Mr. Noodles, and his two moms.