An Advent Study

O Come, O Queer, Imanu’el: God with (q)U(eer)s

Week 1: Stir Up Sunday!

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– The Book of Common Prayer

Our British cousins have a somewhat odd-to-American-palates tradition of enjoying fruitcake for Christmas. The best Christmas Cakes are rich and boozey, bejeweled with a vast array of candied fruits and nuts. There are endless varieties and preferences that all require a lot of labor and most importantly, a lot of time to mature. Some families even go so far as to make next year’s Christmas pudding, this year.

To accommodate this tradition, many Anglican communities observe an informal ritual known as “Stir Up Sunday.” On the Sunday before Advent, the short general prayer, or collect, assigned for the day, begins with the words “stir up” and goes on to exhort folks to bring forth their fruit. It also serves as a subtle reminder that it’s time to gather willing stirrers and get the Christmas cakes going so they’ll have time to ripen.

Over the past couple years, I’ve invited an assemblage of willing neighbors to gather our fruits and stir up Christmas cakes together. (We’ve used a variation of this recipe.)

But, this year, I wanted to take the call a little further.

Within queer theology, there’s a strain of scholarship that uses the word “queer” inclusively, thinking more about the Old English meaning to “stir up” than one’s particular sexual identity or affinity with the LGBTQ community specifically.* It’s this orientation to empowering diversity, privileging the uncommon, outing the out of the ordinary, celebrating the unusual, and dignifying the non-conforming not just out there, but with, in, and among ourselves that I’m inspired to explore this Advent.

In ‘queering’ the nativity narrative, I’m looking to ‘query’ it, stirring up new configurations and insights.

And, what better way to launch that adventure than a good old fashioned fruitcake!

Fruitcake itself has of course its own queer heritage. In Polari, the cant slang or secret language of British queer folk primarily in traveling professions dating as far back as the sixteenth century, “fruit” refers to gay men and can be used positively or negatively depending on the speaker’s orientation and intent. Even today among mainstream English speakers “fruitcake” can be used, most often pejoratively, to refer to LGBT people.

Perhaps this linguistic heritage has something to do with the bad reputation fruitcake suffers from today?

Or, perhaps many fruitcake-haters simply haven’t had the opportunity to savor a proper one: made with love, mature, and chock-full of surprising and delightful fruits and nuts.

In this way, the task I’ve given myself over the next four weeks of Advent one might describe as making proverbial “fruitcake” out of the Christmas story. Depending on your orientation and intent that might sound dull, disgusting, or irrelevant. I, however, am of the persuasion that with a little work and maturity, the story of Jesus’ birth will bring forth some pretty surprising and delightful fruit.

  • What surprising and delightful fruit is being stirred up in you? In your community? Are you taking your turn to get the work done or getting in the way?
  • Do you identify as mostly conforming or mostly non-conforming? Are there areas of your life where you are more likely to conform? Or more likely not to? Why?
  • How do you experience the nativity narrative? What parts do you find common and ordinary? Can you describe intersections with the uncommon and extraordinary? How do attempts to queer that experience make you feel?

*Throughout these weeks I’ll be drawing liberally from The Queer Bible Commentary.

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