Hope in the Promise

“A baby?,” she asked, trying to hide the incredulousness from her voice. “But how will you…. How will we... “ her voice trailed off, as the worry began to overtake her face.

To be honest, I didn’t know, either. I didn’t have answers. I mean, I knew HOW it had happened. That part wasn’t a surprise. At least to me. Still, being unmarried…. Living with my girlfriend of almost a year…. There was a sense of shame that washed over me as I had to reveal to my own mother that we were expecting a child. Yet…. a sense of promise. Of responsibility. I was going to be a parent. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it, but there was a sense of hope in the promise. A sense that everything was going to be okay.

That was almost 17 years ago, and still that sense of shame washes over me with every revelation I have had to share with my parents. The sense that I had let them down. That their dreams of having the perfect son keeps falling short. I remember the moment I told them I was leaving the Catholic Church to join the Calvary Chapel movement. The moment I told them I was dating my girlfriend and then the time I told them I was moving to Fresno to live with her. Behind those eyes…. So much pain, and a sense of disappointment, like I had let them down.

It makes me wonder what Mary felt as her stomach grew with the baby inside. So much wondering...

It’s two days until Christmas Eve.

And as I think back to the all-familiar Christmas story, I have to stop and wonder - how did Mary and Joseph experience it? We have the advantage of looking at the story now with hindsight. But in the moment - how did Mary navigate her pregnancy? How did the townspeople deal with it? Her parents? Considering the response Jesus got when teaching in the temple (John 8:41), it’s not a secret that people were talking about Mary’s pregnancy.

God had sent a promise to Mary in the visit from Gabriel, but how long did that really last? We see Mary, as part of her response to Gabriel’s message, visiting her relative, Elizabeth, where Gabriel’s prophecy was confirmed - she was pregnant, well past the age that women were able to conceive. And it was in that moment, Mary blurts out her praises to God. Luke’s account tells us that Mary then stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months before returning home - just into her second trimester.

I have to wonder how she felt.

We look at the story, and we imagine that she was strong in her faith - holding to the promise that she was holding God’s son in her womb. But yet, what pain and suffering did she have to endure in order to bring Jesus to this world? Rejection? We know that premarital sex in those days was punishable by death. So I’m assuming attending church or temple gatherings would have been out of the question. What about rumors? Her family? Did they, apart from Elizabeth and Zechariah, believe her? Then there was the trip to Bethlehem. 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to be exact. Historians believe that it was a 4 day journey, slower if they travelled with a donkey. By the time they arrived in Bethlehem, they were no doubt, tired, dirty, hungry, and anxious. It wasn’t a secret that Mary was close to giving birth. She may have already been experiencing contractions. Her water may have broken. And I can only imagine the sense of worry and despair with each denial of space.

It is in this mindset that I enter into Christmas this year. God had given His promise to Mary - and yet, in what would seem to be her greatest time of need to date, there seemed no respite in sight. Then, when someone did offer a place, it was in a stable. A place with the animals. I wonder if Mary had earlier thoughts of grandeur. If she had imagined that, in agreeing to give birth to the son of God, they would be granted a space in a palace of sorts. That God would make a way for that to happen. After all, she had stepped out in faith to follow God’s call, right? Instead, she probably had to endure months of rejection, humiliation, and now birth in a stable - hardly a place fit for a King. I wonder what thoughts were running through her head?

When I first took steps to come out and begin my transition, I thought that it would be the act that solidified my place away from God and what I had known of the Evangelical church. I began to embrace the idea that faith for me was only to be found in affirming congregations that were almost foreign to me in the way they worshipped and believed. It was a slight comfort, but far from my past, when I had been so passionate about worshipping God and seeking His presence. All of that was to change when I stepped out in faith at the invitation of a friend to a women’s event at her church.

I’ve written before about that experience, so I’ll spare the details here. Yet, despite the fear, God reached down and met me right where I was. His presence, so real, calling me back to Himself and worship in the way I knew.

“But how,” I wondered.

“Look at me - I am the very antithesis of what these people believe are Christians!” Yet, I can only describe it as a sense of comfort that overwhelmed me as I sat to share my story for the first time with the director of women’s ministry that night. It was in that moment, I felt that Christ was being birthed right before my eyes. Two people from unlikely worlds, sharing in the love of God.

Since that time, I have begun to travel from church to church, trying to find a place to call home. And while some have rejected me, others have left me standing out in the outer court - the “stable,” if you would, wondering if I would ever be invited inside. Perhaps some day, but not today.

It’s been a painful process, I won’t deny that. To fall in love with a worship community only to be told that there really isn’t a place for me to truly belong. That the stigma of who I am - a queer trans woman - was too much for their congregations to handle at the moment. What would people say? How would the others react? And because the topic of sexuality and gender are so sensitive in the church, how can we hope to address the issue of transgender people in our communities? Perhaps it’s safer to just shut the doors.

People have wondered why I do what I do. Why I’ve been travelling this road. Why I’ve bothered to have conversations with pastors of non-affirming churches - some leaders who have even spoken against the LGBTQ+ communities - despite the pain and hurt. All I have in response is, “the promise of God.”

I wonder about how close Mary clung to the promise of God.

That she would be the conduit for God’s redemption here on earth. Jesus’ birth wasn’t the end of it. Mary had to watch as her baby boy was belittled, mocked, arrested, put on a mockery of a trial, and then crucified. All the while, I wonder what was going on through her mind. As a woman at that time, she most likely didn’t have knowledge of the Scripture to know the prophecies foretold. And yet she, in faith, took on the suffering she had to endure in order to fulfill God’s promises to the world.

It makes me think about me. About us. We have God’s promises in front of us - access to it is available in print, on our computers, on our phones even. And yet, within God’s promises, we shudder and question if God is really there when it gets hard. When it doesn’t seem like God could possibly be present.

I think of the pain I’ve suffered in trying to navigate the Evangelical Church as a queer trans woman. I think of how I feel God’s calling to not cause division, but to bring healing. I think of how my marriage has suffered as a result of my coming out. I think of how my relationship with my parents is forever altered. Yet, I look to God’s promise that He is “working all things together for my good and the good of ALL who are called according to His purpose.” And tonight, as we hang on the precipice of the fourth Sunday of Advent, I wonder if that will mean God’s presence will not be found in a mighty temple, but rather in the lowly stable.

I have to hope and look to His promises.

And no matter where you are, I hope that you can, too. For you are never alone. May the Christ child be born to us again this Christmas. And may that give you hope.

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