Monday, December 8, 2008

Considering Advent

I want to respond to pb's comment on the last post. I also grew up in a tradition "devoid of liturgy" and wasn't exposed to Advent until I was an adult.

I have to start by saying that I observe Advent completely wrong. People who really understand Advent would be pretty much appalled at how much Christmas seeps into my Advent-keeping. It's a little bit like the Advent calendars we had as kids--they were mostly a countdown to Christmas.

For purists, Advent and Christmas are kept strictly separate. Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas and is a time of waiting. The mood is somewhat somber, the hymns are all in a minor key. Churches reflect this by keeping the sanctuary bare--no poinsettias, no trees or lights or decorations--and no Christmas carols or Christmas sermons. The signature Scriptures for Advent are from Isaiah; the patron saint is John the Baptist. The idea is that we identify with God's people through the centuries, waiting for redemption, longing for Messiah, and suffering as they waited.

In the old days in the old country, people bought their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve--ever noticed that in a lot of the old movies? Also, this is the reason for "Midnight Mass"--At midnight, Jesus is born and Christmas has come! Now is the time for carols and decorations and celebration. In some traditions, everyone goes home from church and eats a huge celebratory breakfast and then they all go to bed and wait for St. Nicklaus. These were also the days of the "12 Days of Christmas," which are actually on the church calendar and not just part of a silly song, and not the contemporary "12 hours before I have to go back to work after Christmas."

Of course, many churches and most Christians fudge on all of this. We go ahead and start the Christmas carols and sermons on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, and honestly, I like it that way--it helps put all the stress and fun of the prolonged Christmas season in context for me. When our kids were younger, we would light the candles every night but after a few false starts, we focused on different aspects of the Christmas story (not much from Isaiah.) As the kids got older, they prepared their own devotions. We would pray and sing a carol or two and look at the Christmas tree and talk quietly.

Personally, I like the prolonged celebration of Christmas at church and with the kids. But in my own devotional life, I try to settle in around the themes of Advent: hopeful waiting, the "now-and-the-not-yet," anticipating redemption, suffering in the absence of Christ. I use the devotional guide Watch for the Light but this year, I was so looking forward to Nancy Guthrie's new devotional for evangelicals, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Unfortunately, it seems to be sold out (or never delivered) to the stores around here and by the time I get it from Amazon, Advent will be over. I've just learned about a new resource--a free Advent devotional guide at And pb, I'm giving you a booklet that my friend gave me--I hope you enjoy it.

So, all this to say that my observance of Advent is completely in error--I do it all wrong--and yet, it has blessed me as much as anything I can think of. Sounds like God at work, doesn't it?

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