November 12, 2015

Rescuing Advent from Christmas

This is a tiny rant, or better, a non-urgent plea: Let's rescue Advent from Christmas. If you're thinking, "But Advent is the countdown to Christmas. It's how we get ready to celebrate Christ's birth. Blah blah blah." then you're the reason I'm writing this. OK, I doubt you actually thought, "Blah blah blah." That shouldn't be in quotes. But it is. This is a tiny rant, I can do that.

Here's my point: Advent is a time of its own in the seasons of the church year. It is an important focal point for spiritual formation and mature faith. It is a time to return our lives to hope, because God has acted in the past, and is active in the present, and will act in the future to bring peace, love, and a transformation of creation. It is a time to learn again that much of this life is about waiting, and the waiting can either be an awful drag filled with angst and confusion, or it can be filled with wonder, joy, mystery, and love. Not because Christmas day will come and make life bubbly for a day; rather, because God in Christ is our hope.

As it is now, most of Advent is observed as pre-Christmas warm-up time, and that's it. Advent workshops in churches often look like Santa's workshop. We see everything through the lens of the holiday that has come to crush all other holidays and seasons, and bear all the weight of our material and familial hopes and dreams, even if much of it is emtpy promises. And if all we get for our four weeks of Advent observance is time to shop and wrap presents that get used up and thrown away before all the Christmas candy is eaten, why bother?

The promise of the birth of Christ doesn't even come up in the Advent Sunday readings until the last week. The earlier weeks speak of the future reign of Christ when all will be made right, and how we can live in eager anticipation of that good news now. They tell us of the arrival of wild John the baptizer and initiator as a herald of repentance and preparation. They remind us that justice for the poor and oppressed and mercy for all us what we hope for, and if not, we need to break our hopes and form new ones. They promise that God will act to bring the reign of peace even when we have lost the capacity to believe it.

In our worshiping community, we are again observing an extended Advent, beginning three weeks prior to the first week of traditional Advent. This is rooted in earlier traditions of the season, when Advent was 6 to 7 weeks long in some places. It fits well with the readings already assigned for these Sundays, which image for us the unimaginable future reign of Christ.

This extended Advent has been one way to rescue Advent from Christmas. It lets us get into the blue hopeful mood of Advent before the flurry of holiday craziness sets in. It gives us more time than a short four weeks, one of which is lost to Thanksgiving holiday travel for many, others of which we can expect to see folks maybe once or twice because of that soul-crushing, unAdvent thing we live in December called "busyness."

So yes, a tiny rant, a non-urgent plea (non-urgent because if it were urgent and created stress and more anxiety it wouldn't really help speak to the Advent hope now would it?): Let's rescue Advent from our out-of-control Christmas frenzy. Let's make more of Advent than we have in the past. Let's slow down, set aside time and space to pause and find our hope again. God knows we need it.


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