When I was declared "HIV+" in 1993, it was a time of personal apocalypse. I felt I was never again going to see fall colors. I knew it was going to be my last Christmas. Death was knocking at my door.
I also remember it as a time of pervasive fear. I was serving as a pastor in a very large, conservative-fundamentalist denomination. Where would my health and disability insurance come from if I were fired? Thank God for a small group of faithful friends who kept reminding me that grace is real.
In 1995, after I was "thrown out" of the denomination of my birth, I immersed myself in the world of AIDS/HIV. With no pastoral position to protect, I was free to dwell among the AIDS/HIV community—to feel the pain, to share some tears, to listen to the anger, to lift up the sick and to bury the dead. I discovered that countless others shared my personal sense of apocalypse. We hoped that somehow the church would embrace all those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS with the love and care of Christ. Believe me, we all needed what we could get!
Then an amazing thing happened. In 1996, a new class of drugs came out called "protease inhibitors." While these drugs do not cure AIDS/HIV, they have stopped the onslaught of death and sickness for many—but not all.
These new drugs brought about a change in the AIDS/HIV community in America—and in me: What was once "apocalypse now" is now probably better described as Advent. We're still waiting for an end to this disease. We're still longing for a restoration of health. We're still determined to live expectantly and to hope steadfastly.
While the deaths and illnesses have slowed, make no mistake about it, the "Body of Christ STILL has AIDS." We might be waiting, but as the prophet Zephaniah reminds us, "We must not let our hands grow weak."
Too many are still being diagnosed, especially among minority populations, youth, women and the elderly. The global reality of AIDS/HIV churns on in mind-boggling proportions and with cataclysmic consequences.
Since there is no cure for AIDS, we find ourselves in a season of Advent. Still waiting. Still hoping. Still working. Still caring. And this World AIDS Day, we'll still be praying: "Come, Lord Jesus, come."
The Rev. Michael Castle is the organizing pastor of the Cross Creek Community UCC in Dayton, Ohio. He serves on the National Leadership Team of the United Church AIDS/HIV Network (UCAN).