What’s the big deal about Advent?

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I get Advent.

It’s a time of waiting, a time of preparation.  A time to contemplate our need for a saviour coming into the world.  A time to focus on God’s ultimate goal for creation and Jesus’ Second Coming. It’s a distinct season from Christmas.

Yada yada yada. (Yes, I just yada yada’d Advent).

For the first five or six years out of seminary I was a good Reformed minister.  I gnashed my teeth at the thought of any Christmas hymns before December 24th.  And I boasted proudly that our Christmas tree or Christmas lights weren’t going to come down until after Epiphany! The Advent Conspiracy got hate email from me because the conspiracy was that it was actually about Christmas and not about Advent!  But in the last couple years I’ve been rethinking my staunch adherence to the Advent Party Platform.

What’s the big deal about Advent?  What harm is it to start dealing with Christmas in scripture, sermon and song before December 24th? I’m not advocating for singing Silent Night, Joy to the World, and O Little Town of Bethlehem in November.  In my family we have an Advent wreath that we light every night at dinner, adding a candle at each Sunday of Advent.  But with my four year old, we also talk a lot about Christmas during this time because that’s what is on his mind.

By early to mid-Decemeber I think it is time for us to embrace that Christmas is all around us regardless of what the Liturgical Calendar says. Remember Karl Barth’s take on newspapers and the Bible? Well, guess what the newspapers are full of starting the day after Thanksgiving?  It ain’t Advent.

Right now, someone reading this is shaking their fist at their monitor and yelling at me, “But Shawn, we aren’t supposed to conform to society! Since everyone is in such a rush to hurry to Christmas, that’s just a greater reason for us to wait and stay in Advent.”  It would be great if everyone would slow down and really take time to be in Advent and not hurry to Christmas.  It would also be great if we all ate family dinner together every night, schools wouldn’t schedule things on Sundays, and going to church was a given.

But this isn’t the way things are anymore, and no amount of sticking our heads in the sand is going to activiate the magic time machine to take us back to the good old days.  As a church, we lose the chance to reflect theologically about Christmas if we wait until December 24th to do it.

So what do you think?

4 thoughts on “What’s the big deal about Advent?

  1. I grew up with a pastor who only let us sing advent hymns during advent. I know what advent is. I appreciate. And I, too, as a good Presbyterian pastor held the party line for years.But lately I’ve been re-thinking it. First of all, if we don’t do the education and help people understand what advent is, then it’s not advent it’s just “we don’t get to sing Christmas carols during December.” Can’t singing Christmas carols be part of our preparing for Christmas? There are some wonderful advent hymns, and I know them because I sang them growing up. My plan for this year is to sing advent hymns the first Sunday in advent, in November, and then choose one advent hymn to sing throughout December (not “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” — we know that one already) so people can start learning them.I also want to get a group of people together to brainstorm ideas for advent and Christmas. I’ll give them the scripture and themes ahead of time, and we’ll gather for a meal and a time of thinking about, praying about, learning about, brainstorming about, and planning worship in December.

  2. I like the Idea of advent it give you a journey to the celebration of the Birth of Jesus. I think celebrating the birth just on the 24th and the 25th is more conformist that really following the advent. Most other major religions have holidays which last for days if not weeks, and Christians do have one but they have chosen to forget that replacing it with a condensed version. If you look at the Orthodox Christians they do hold the Advent as a high holiday, so why not here, why not in the US?

  3. First of all, I read this morning that ostriches never put their heads in the sand 🙂 Secondly, I think it sucks waiting till Christmas to reflect on Christmas and having two seconds to really appreciate it, not only personally but as a church. It goes by too quickly when it finally arrives.

  4. While I am nowhere near the “Advent purist” I used to be, I do still believe we should preach and teach the Advent themes you mention during December (and at other times, as well, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion). I think these themes can be the focus of the Scripture readings and sermons (and topics of Christian ed offerings, pastors’ letters/e-mails, etc., etc.) without “playing Grinch” (as I was once accused of!) and “taking away Christmas.”I also think, sure, let’s sing some Christmas hymns in Advent, but (a) choose them judiciously (for example, “Joy to the World,” which most everyone I know thinks of as a Christmas hymn, is just as much if not more of an Advent hymn); and (b) they can be used in creative, liturgical ways, so that — in a “traditional” serice, at least — one could have Advent hymns with plenty of Christmas music retained. My congregation used to use the final verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as our sung Prayer of Confession, for example, and a verse from “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” as a sung response to the Assurance of Pardon. In short, keeping a “pure Advent” is no longer a battle I think is worth fighting. But I do think pastors, preachers, and worship planners should keep Advent themes front and center until Dec. 24/25 — we just don’t have to be obnoxious about it. 🙂

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