O Come, O Queer Immanu’el: God with (q)U(eer)s
Week 4: Gaudete Vipers
It was during those days that Yochanan the Immerser [John the Baptist] arrived in the desert of Y’hudah and began proclaiming the message, “Turn from your sins to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” This is the man Yesha‘yahu was talking about when he said,Matthew 3 (The Complete Jewish Bible)
“The voice of someone crying out:
‘In the desert prepare the way of Adonai!
Make straight paths for him!’”
Yochanan wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Yerushalayim, from all Y’hudah, and from the whole region around the Yarden. Confessing their sins, they were immersed by him in the Yarden River.
But when Yochanan saw many of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim coming to be immersed by him, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to escape the coming punishment? If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it! And don’t suppose you can comfort yourselves by saying, ‘Avraham is our father’! For I tell you that God can raise up for Avraham sons from these stones! Already the axe is at the root of the trees, ready to strike; every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown in the fire!
The third week of Advent (I know I’m behind) is traditionally called Gaudete, latin for “rejoice,” and marked with a pink candle.
How queer. . .
In addition, the lectionary introduces the great queer prophet of Jesus’s day: his bosom buddy and BFF?, Yochanan the Immerser. Or, if you prefer conventional anglicization, John the Baptist.
Living literally on the margins of society, dressing so unconventionally as to merit mention, and boldly breaking purity codes with his diet, John’s queerness echoes Isaiah’s prophecy that it is a cry from out-there in the wild wilderness, not here in the safe and known, we need to be listening for and paying attention to.
And what’s the fuss about?
Sure, he eventually gets around to making a messianic claim for Jesus which tends to be what we reduce the function of Yochanan’s message to today, but who’s he talking to? about what?
Though anchored in the primary color red, pink isn’t actually part of the electromagnetic spectrum. When we call something pink we’re not identifying actual wavelengths of pink light. It’s “extra-spectral,” which means other colors must be mixed to generate it. Algorithms are notorious for being largely unsuccessful in searches for “pink art.” When it occurs in nature it tends to be connected to the body (e.g. the mouth).
It wasn’t until World War II that pink started to take on the feminine/effeminate characteristics many of us attribute to it today. We can thank the Nazis for that. . . in the same way they forced Jews to identify themselves by wearing a yellow star, they forced homosexual men to identify themselves with a pink triangle. (They had a whole taxonomy of colored triangles to label various categories of social queerness.)
While much western thinking about pink is still rooted in the Nazi’s taxonomy of queerness, in contemporary Japanese culture pink is perceived as a masculine and mournful color associated with warriors falling in battle.
How often do we use pink in non-gendered contexts? Why?
You brood of vipers. You massing of power and poison.
I don’t believe John is condemning the Judaism of his fellow Jews or that the gospel writer is saying something specific about a particular group of religious leaders in a particular historical moment.
I believe he’s saying something bigger–something queer-er. A universal truth across time and space and social location about how God’s people relate to God’s work.
John’s message makes clear that the purity of one’s birth or the self-righteousness of one’s religious piety is irrelevant; is indeed a hindrance to God’s work in the world. God will find God’s people, most likely wandering in the wilderness, and the fruit that they bear will scatter the proud, disrupt the established order, and stir up a radical revolution.
We can work to create and celebrate gloriously fruity fruitcake or writhe about frightful and futile attempting to secure a status and privilege that never existed and is not possible.
The choice is ours.