When my boys were little, lighting the candles on the Advent wreath on the dining room table was a really big deal. I'd like to think it was because they had grasped the significance of the holiness of the Advent season as a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of our Lord. However, I'm sure it was because if the Advent Wreath was there, the tree and presents couldn't be far behind! And it was a tradition that "stuck" in our family long after they had outgrown many others.
I'm remembering a particular evening in Advent. The boys would have been about 12 and 15. It was after I had come out and their father and I had separated and while we were working away at what my therapist called "reconfiguring the family on the other side of the marriage." We were at the dinner table together with the Advent wreath in the middle and -- that particular night -- my younger son, Brian, was on about something he couldn't live without and his father and I were ruining his life by not getting it for him. I think it was a dirt bike.
He didn't want to hear reasoned explanations that dirt bikes were not in the budget for newly ordained parish priests. "So how long do we have to wait until there's some money in this family?" he asked. "What about those big jobs at those fancy churches? Why don't you go be in charge of one of those?" And I must have run out of patience at that point for I remember saying, "You have be ordained longer than I have been to get those jobs, Brian -- and besides, they usually go to the straight, white men."
"Well, so much for that idea!" he said in disgust. And then, unable to resist one last parting shot added, "I just hope you know I always expected my mom to be straight!" And his father, without missing a beat, piped in, "So did I!" And we all laughed ... and Brian did NOT get the dirt bike.
Another thing Brian did not get was the family he expected -- but that didn't mean we quit being family to each other. And that's because the values that made us family to each other transcended even the expectations we had for each other.
And the icon of what that family looks like for me is my mental picture of the year both of my sons and their father joined my partner Louise in the pew at All Saints Church on Christmas morning -- after the traditional Russell family Christmas Eve dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding the night before! And Christmas morning I looked out at them from the pulpit with deep gratitude for the family we had become.
We may not be a family James Dobson focuses on but that doesn't make us any less family. And it doesn't make the values that bind us together any less holy.
Joseph didn't get the family he expected, either -- and the Gospel according to Matthew tells us that his first reaction to the "unexpected" was to dismiss his pregnant fiancé, an act which would fallen firmly within the bounds of the traditional family values of his day and would have made Mary and her child outcasts. Instead of "tradition" Joseph chose love. He did as the angel commanded and took Mary as his wife and named the child Jesus -- and the rest is Holy Family History.
The Christ Child made the Holy Family holy. What made them family were the values that bound them together as an icon of God's love for the whole human family. And those values have absolutely nothing to do with either the gender or the genetics of those who make up a family and everything to do with the inclusive love of the God whose deepest desire is for this human race -- created in God's image -- to become the human family it was meant to be.
Sadly, one of the things that has WAY too often gotten in the way of proclaiming that love to all people is the very thing that was created to proclaim that love to all people -- and that thing would be The Church. Yet maybe it's my own lived experience of reconfiguring a family on the other side of a marriage that gives me the hope we can also reconfigure our churches on the other side of bias and bigotry against God's LGBT beloved.
That hope is fueled by these words making the rounds on Facebook this week:
We are all equal.
Regardless of religion or geographical region.
Whether you believe we are all created in God's image
or that we all have Buddha nature,
equality is fundamental.
Honoring the divinity within all beings
means ALL beings (period).
And so as Christmas looms my prayer is: O Come, O Come Emmanuel -- make us agents of the power to live in the Eternal Now and give us grace to live your Holy Family Values all the days of our lives. And may the God of hope fill us with joy and peace -- and equip us to be agents of love, justice and compassion. Always. Amen.