Monday, November 28, 2005

Why Advent

I find myself coming at Advent differently than I ever have before. I have always thought about it as four weeks of "getting ready for Christmas." Advent was decorating, shopping, partying, going to concerts and pageants, and so forth - always a means toward the end of Christmas Day. Now I am wondering just how faithful that is.

Firstly, thinking about Advent that way reduces it to the same level as going to the mall to sit on Santa's lap. It is just one more thing to do between Thanksgiving Day and December 25th. We go shopping; we look at the lights; we do Advent stuff at church; we bake cookies; we go over to the Jones's for egg nog, etc. Lighting that funny horizontal wreath in front of the sanctuary is just something else on the pre-Christmas to-do list.

Secondly, that approach to Advent presumes the absence of Christ, at least temporarily. If we spend these four weeks getting ready for Jesus to arrive, it begs the question, "Where is he now?" Does he sort of slip away just after Christ the King Sunday and show up again at the Christmas Eve service? How do we explain theologically our treatment of this holy season every single year? And are we supposed to, on December the 26th, stop preparing for Jesus to come into our lives? After all, he has arrived now. What next?

And finally, thinking of Advent as mere Christmas prep time does not allow followers of Christ to enter into the spiritual disciplines appropriate to the season, as is frequently done during Lent. You never hear the question, "What are you giving up for Advent?" floating around church hallways. This should be a time of deep spiritual reflection and prayer, purposeful study of the scriptures, and renewed dedication to do what is pleasing in God's sight, "to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."

So this Advent, I am doing more than just get ready for Christmas. I am going to ask myself (and by extension taking my congregation along with me), "What do I expect of God?" Four weeks of Advent, so four expectations: STRENGTH, COMFORT, JUSTICE, and FAITHFULNESS. I intend to dwell here for a while. Each one of these areas is going to be a sermon. (If you would like, you can read transcriptions of my sermons on the website of my remarkable congreation, though we are just a wee bit behind in posting them.) I am calling the series "Unseasonable Expectations."

Furthermore, I think Christians ought to pretty much just live in Advent mode all year round. I mean, are we not supposed to be expecting Christ to show up all the time? The incarnation means that God is always coming, and always present - all at the same time! I like to say that "eternity" not only has no end, it also has no beginning. Saying that God is eternal means that God has always been, is fully now, and is evermore just about to arrive. And that is what Advent is.

Well, that and the four weeks of getting ready for Christmas, too!


Kat Coble said...

I commented at Cole's site, and wanted to add something further here, since I guess I should have linked over here before asking my question.

I like what you have to write about the Church being in constant Advent mode. It's true, and it makes good sense.

But I don't think it's right to assume that simply because others in your congregation don't share their epiphanies with you that they haven't had them. It's easy to look around a solemn church during any ritual and decide that the "true meaning" has passed everyone by. I would reckon, though, that the Holy Spirit's ability to minister to each of us in our place of need is greater than we can fathom. I imagine that most of us, whether we are outwardly expressive or not, are being dealt with by the Spirit.

St.Phransus said...

for me advent, like lent, has a spiritual discipline side to it. for me there is a linguistic difference in the two seasons- for lent i ask- what shall i give up?

for advent i ask- what shall i take on? both take a spiritual practice of sorts.

Anonymous said...

We must constantly struggle with the culture around us. During Advent we should be singing Advent hymns. Right? "Christmas" begins with Thanksgiving and ends with Christmas day. It's hard to fight it. Is there a difference between Christians always expecting Christ show up as in incarnation as opposed to showing up daily in "the least of these" or "Christ will come again" as in the communion liturgy. I, too, think we should be in serious reflection but to challenge our culture today with the sin of war or the arrogance of wealth is volatile at the very least. In all of your Advent reflection, don't forget to buy very expensive gifts for your wondrful parents. Shalom-dad

Anonymous said...

Something bothers me to be thinking "what do I expect from God." Expectation is and has always been an important aspect of the Advent experience for Christians. But I feel kind of arrogant assigning expectations to God. It feels better for me to think on what I expect from myself, or what my response needs to be, to God's gracious generosity. And I really don't need expensive gifts for Christmas. Just come and visit me every day off and every holiday. That's not asking too much, is it? Love, Mom

Adam Caldwell said...

I agree with Jim, esxept that for Dru and I Christmas starts way before Thanksgiving. We've been rockin' the Christmas toons since before Halloween! Yeah baby...Happy Harry Connicka!

EyeRytStuf said...

To comment on the "What we expect from..." bit:

My favorite sermon or whatever took place at Broadway Baptist Church on or near Easter, 1989... or maybe 1990. Like how I'm clear on the date?

Apparently it caused quite a stir, but I liked it a lot, and it actually sorta reached me, which is nigh unto impossible for any sermon to do.

The upshot was: YOU are going to judge ME after I die? I don't think so. You let me see the following people or groups of people and have them tell me it was worth it, and then I'll decide whether or not this is Heaven.

But they said it way better.

Willie said...

I get existential as all get-out over Advent. See, we celebrate the coming of Christ because Christ is always coming - if we look for him. It's also how I preach resurrection: when a starving person receives a hot meal, Christ is emerging from the tomb. When the church visits a prisoner, Christ is emerging from the tomb. It's all about how Christ is bursting forth into reality in each and every moment.

At least, that's how I do it.

Anonymous said...

Expectation of God without expectations. God always works in our lives; we should expect and rejoice in that. It is when we have expectations of how God works that we fall into trouble...

And Advent has always had a double meaning. This is not news. Christians must always be looking forward and back in all seasons. (Just as each Testament looks forward or back [accordingly] to the Christological event) Advent is about the coming of Christ both in his birth and second coming. Christmas should not be celebrated without a realization of what Christ was born to do for us. (That's why so many great Christmas carols have a last verse about Christ dying for us.) Christians should always live both in Christ's death and resurrection. You can and must have it both ways. Expectation without expectations!

Andy B. said...

The word I used in thinking about expectations of God was not "arrogant" as you offered, but "audacious."
Yes! I wish you who wrote the last comment would fess up - who are you? Your comment is brilliant. In fact, that is the direction I have found this Sunday's sermon heading. Thanks!
- Andy B.

Andy B. said...

Clarification - I used the word "audacious" in my sermon Sunday, not in the blog post.
- AB