Is Advent Still Worth Doing? An Honest Question from Bo Sanders

This past Monday John Stewart did a very funny bit on the Daily Show about how Christmas has gotten so big that it is starting to take over other Holidays – what we used to call Thanksgiving is now ‘Black Thursday’ … Watch out: you’re next Halloween!

And in one sense, it is true. Christmas has become, as many have articulated, a frenzied orgy of consumerism. My dean, Philip Clayton, in a piece entitled “ Reflections for a Time of Madness” points out:

In an irony of history, the time of spiritual preparation and silent waiting has become the busiest, most frenetic season of the year.

 Now admittedly I am new to Advent. This will only be my third time through it. I have embraced it with gusto though! Last year I even bought a box of these amazing Liturgical Calendars and led a series of lessons on it in the Adult Ed. classes at our church.

In fact, when Stuart explains that the 12 days of Christmas is actually the period from Christmas day to Epiphany (January 6) when the Magi (Wise Men) are celebrated as visiting the baby king. The sad part is that just 5 years ago, that would have been news to me! I probably thought that not only was it the 12 days that led up to Christmas – but that I was showing great restraint to limit the season to just 12 days.

I love reading, listening to and even chatting with Phyllis Tickle and Dianna Butler Bass [one of my conversations with her] about all of the rich tradition and deep meaning that are to be found in walking these ancient paths.

And while I am very excited about the spiritual season of waiting and reflection, I have a new wrinkle in my fledging appreciation for the liturgical season. We have started a new emergent gathering (the Loft LA) that employs an ‘ancient-future’ sort of engagement.

This coming Sunday we are introducing the group to the Advent Conspiracy and I am very pumped to enter into the that conversation.

 I am, however, a little less enthusiastic about introducing the topic of Advent itself. In fact, we have debated, prayed and really wrestled with how to approach this. Our liturgical service (10 am) does Advent that the 9s. We go all out. We even hold off singing the famous songs until Christmas day – even though we have this amazing (and overwhelming) pipe organ that would be a huge draw for those who like to sing the classics in preparation for the big day.

 But is it worth it to bring up the topic to a crowd of newbies? My conviction is wavering.

Look, I love Christmas. I love the month of December and the lights and the presents and everything that goes along it with. I love singing Christmas carols in December! Do I really want to get into this counter-cultural restraint motif with new folks? Is it really worth initiating folks to this old way?

 Part of me says no! The ship has sailed – that battle is lost. Christmas starts before December in our culture and we should capitalize on that as the Church! Stop being such sanctimonious nay-sayers and pious do-rights and join the party! Plan, strategize, and engage the people around you at the time the are most christianly-inclined!

They are singing things like: 

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born;

 

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

 

What the HELL is your problem?
Get with the program!
Shake off the dust Church Lady and roll with times!
Carpe Mañana

Then another part of me says Advent makes so much more sense – is so much more meaningful – and aren’t we preaching an anti-mammon counter-cultural message anyway? Maybe we should cave in to culture. Maybe we should concede to the bloated, grotesque, shallow, hollow consumer and credit card carcass that christmas has become.’  Maybe Advent is still worth doing … even with new people.

Maybe, especially, with new people. Maybe giving them an alternative to the frenzied and hectic mess that December has become is exactly how we could minister to and with them.

Or maybe Advent is just one more of these sentimental oddities that the church likes to hold onto and even prides itself on hanging onto until it’s dying breath. It’s not like we own Christmas. Wait … we do kind of have an invested interest … one might even say a market share … and by God – we are going to love it to death.

As you can tell, I am quite unsettled on the issue.  Thoughts?

 [please let us know if you grew up with Advent in your response] 

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47 comments
Aurora Pastor
Aurora Pastor

I came to Advent in my 20's and absolutely loved it.  Became a PCUSA pastor and something of an Advent snob (none so righteous as the newly righteous). I loved the sense of expectation, the hymnody, the recognition of human longing.

I've toned Advent down lately primarily because if I do Advent then we lose Christmas as a congregation (the murmuring of the congregation also has something to do with it).  After  the 7 pm Christmas Eve Service (which I think of as part of Advent, the old school Christmas Eve service ended after midnight) attendance nosedives until mid-January,  people stay away.  In the congregation's understanding Christmas is over on the 26th, they are worn out and need a few weeks to recuperate.  

 

But Advent is too important to lose and I do think it is something of an antidote to forces we face in the month of December.  That said, starting four weeks before Christmas isn't soon enough to my way of thinking.  I've been working on moving Advent to November, before the consumer onslaught begins. Why not?  Then I have two weeks of Christmas carols on the Sunday's before Christmas Eve.  That becomes our 12 or so days of Christmas.

 

 

castaway5555
castaway5555

During this season of Advent, I find myself working more and more with John the Baptist; I find it important that Luke begins with John ... and finally it's his message that sets the tone of the gospels. Jesus really says nothing more than what John said. Both met death at the hands of Herod/Rome. It's the resurrection of Jesus, however, that makes clear: this message is the The Message. "Prepare the way of the Lord" is what every religion knows: John's word in Luke - share with one another, be restrained in the desire for wealth, and if you have power, use it guardedly, and be satisfied. Christians tend to shy away from The Message and keep waiting for "Jesus and the Holy Spirit" to do it for them. Reformed Theology, with all of its goodness, didn't help on this score. Anyway, it's a powerful time for Christians to ask what the folks asked of John, "What should we do?"

Brother Corey
Brother Corey

As Dr. Clayton points out, Advent is a time of kenosis and silent anticipation. As an ego-identified and selfish culture this is completely alien. Christians, for the most part, are inwardly undeveloped and the tradition has largely been reduced to mental beliefs and moral idealisms (even when we try to elevate it to a high-brow philosophy). We are too full of our egos, busy-ness and static conceptualizations to have room for Christ.

 

Is it worth doing? Absolutely. Are we capable of really engaging in Advent, should be the question.

MattBarlow
MattBarlow

 @BoSanders I have only become familiar with Advent over the past few years - however, it has become a welcome retreat from the consumerized-Christmas that the season has turned into.My two cents: go for it. As I've mentioned, doing Advent can be a much-needed contemplative space to enter into amidst the hectic and stressful holiday season. For me, Advent simply represents light coming forth from darkness. There are many aspects of that theme which could be explored aside from just the coming of Christ. For example, the light could represent the many restorative efforts of social justice, or it could represent our own acts of love, grace, forgiveness, etc. The symbolic elements of Advent - namely the illumination within darkness - are quite meaningful, especially given that this time of year is unusually dark. Even the many Christmas lights that are put up have become to me a nice reminder of Advent's theme of light breaking through the dark.

 

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

 @BoSanders I'm new to doing Advent as of last year (and new to the church calendar in general as of two years ago after reading Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright).

 

I don't know/understand anywhere near as much about it as I should, nor do I think I have experienced it in its fully gung ho liturgical form. What I know I like though. I like the idea of having a different rhythm, of embracing and embodying a different narrative (and/or eschatology, perhaps). That seems really important to me.

 

I feel the flipside you're raising though and I get it. The Christianity I've grown up with (largely evangelical/conservative) in Northern Ireland (in the UK) doesn't really know of or do Advent but without fail the "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas" campaign/malaise will come about, each year,  without restraint. If I've read it right your Advent problem is a slightly less sad and more informed version of this, maybe.

 

I don't really know what to do about this, I don't know if I'd give up on Advent but perhaps there is a sense in which Christmas needs enlarged; as opposed to ghettoised and treated as only "truly" meaningful in this one liturgical community/subculture.

 

I was listening to the Emergent Village Convention from 2007 w/ Caputo and Kearney. Toward the end of one of the sessions, Caputo is talking about Vattimo and starts paraphrasing Vattimo on Christmas:

 

'Look Christmas, what's Christmas? People complain Christmas has been secularised, it just means getting together with your friends, having a good time, love, fellowship, and you've forgotten the theology. And Vattimo says, "forget the theology! That's what it really is, Christmas is that God is love, in the world. God is human good fellowship. God is justice."'

 

No quite sure where that takes you, but I guess when Advent is a retreat and not a belonging wholly to the world, when Advent is (in some sense) a quasi-closed communal activity and can't in *some way* embrace what "the world" is doing with Christmas (provided I suppose that's not some Herodian-esque massacre), it's not quite speaking of what the incarnation was up to, maybe. (I think this applies almost totally to my home, with its Advent-less, "Keep Christ in CHRISTmas" riffs as well. There is a sense in which I'm thinking "you do get what Christmas is, right?" it's God taking up residence in the "secular" and refusing to stay cooped up in "religious/cultic" chatter - perhaps Christ no longer even keeps himself in Christ-mas.)

 

That's my two cents anyway.

castaway5555
castaway5555

Been thinking a lot about the texts for this week, with a focus on John the Baptist. There was a time when I contrasted Jesus and John - suggesting that John was largely mistaken, and it was Jesus who brought clarity to the program.

 

I think, now, that I was wrong. All four gospels introduce Jesus with John - not by way of contrast, but affirmation and expansion. Jesus affirms John's message and work, and builds upon them. John is NOT the Messiah, but the Messiah stands with John in the Jordan.

 

For me, then, Advent is a time to listen carefully to John's message, because it's this message Jesus will deliver again and again, inviting us, as John did, to produce fruit worthy of a changed life. "Prepare the way of the Lord" is a word largely forgotten by the church, because we have rather smugly said, "Well, he came, he conquered, and now we're all happy campers."

 

For me, Advent is a time to get ready for the Messiah, because the work remains before us ... there are deep valleys that need filling, high mountains that need trimming, some mighty rough roads that need smoothing. In this respect, we know "what the Lord requires of us." We'd rather, however, dump the whole thing on the shoulders of Jesus, which is the way we crucify him again and again. We fail to follow him, even as we adore him, and long for heaven. No wonder we eagerly lose ourselves in the "joy" of Christmas (read consumerism) and turn a blind eye to the message of John and how Jesus builds upon that message and takes it to its conclusion - facing the wrath of religious and political power, with the resurrection (see Wright) as confirmation that the message and the method are right, and we're still faced with the task of "preparing the way of the Lord."

cammoblammo
cammoblammo

For our church, Advent (or should I say, December) is the busiest sustained period of the year. Some of the reasons are cultural. In the Southern Hemisphere Christmas falls during summer and school gets out for the long break a week or two earlier. So things are already crazy. Also, we don't celebrate Halloween (okay, some of us are trying to bring it over here!) or Thanksgiving, so in pure secular terms Christmas is the premiere family celebration of the year.

 

Add to that our other Christmas activities. Our denomination does a lot of work fundraising and providing gifts and food for poorer folk to share at Christmas. Moreover, some churches in our denomination will spend five nights a week Christmas carolling around the neighbourhoods, as well as services at old folks' homes, prisons and the like. Crucially, our standard carol book makes no distinction between Christmas songs and Advent songs. We'll also sing those songs for four Sundays before Christmas, but come December 26 we're over them!

 

So when we talk about 'Advent' we mean 'the build up to Christmas Day.' (Or Christmas Eve. Come Christmas Day itself Jesus is often forgotten in the rush to get to Uncle Arthur's place before he cracks open his new bottle of Glenfiddich. I do love the assortment of new, badly-fitting shirts at church on Christmas Day though.)

 

In fact, the week after Christmas Day is spiritually the most important in my annual cycle, as it's about the only time I get to really stop and reflect. 

Travis Mamone
Travis Mamone

Grew up as a "none" but came of age as a nondenominational evangelical. I didn't know much about Advent until I became a Lutheran at 22. I'm 29 now and still not sure if I'm doing Advent right (and I wrote a friggin' e-book of Advent meditations, too!).

jb00m
jb00m

I grew up baptist (Canadian baptist, so I'm never sure how to compare it to American iterations) and we always had advent stuff- lighting candles every Sunday and such with a reading to go along. In my home we had advent calendars- chocolate ones and bibley ones. A bit of a mix, haha, so I get the pull both ways too. Living on my own though its basically turned into neither. Hmm..

luke_sumner
luke_sumner

Recovering Pentecostal/Evangelical here (meaning I grew up with no idea of what Advent was :).

 

I have come to love Advent, and not just Advent but the entire idea of the church having seasons.  Yes, I agree that in some places Advent has almost become a marketing strategy, something to draw people in during the christmas season.  But at it's heart that is not what Advent, and the entire liturgical year, are about.  At it's heart liturgy should be a practice of life.  Growing up, I knew that God was awesome and saving and that I should find nothing but joy in him.  But in my reality I saw darkness, I saw doubt, and I saw things happen where I wondered, "Am I going to come out of this OK?"  I was never taught how to experience darkness and doubt.  It was partially through Advent, and the theology and tradition that lies behind it, that helped me see that the Christian journey can and will contain darkness, but that is not the destination.  Advent can be such a beautiful time to recognize this, and to practice what it means to be a follower of Christ in our world, where seasons can and doo happen that contain darkness, but where our hope lies in something beyond it.

TrippHudgins
TrippHudgins

So, this whole 12 days thing is what saves it for me. @Travis Norvell  said something similar about Lent and Easter...really about Lent and Mardis Gras. None of these seasons make any sense in isolation. What you want to do is compare the Consumer Year to the Church Year and see which you wish to ascribe to or celebrate. Don't celebrate Advent alone. You gotta have 12 days of Christmas, then Epiphanytide, then, then, then...Of course Advent doesn't measure up alone, but it doesn't come alone, Bo. 

raberndt
raberndt

Yes, Advent is absolutely worth doing. It's a necessary phase that in its darkness and bewilderment sets into relief the joyous Christmas event. As Auden said, "Earth's darkness invents the blaze of heaven, and frigid silence meditates a song." Or to use another metaphor that I hope is not too crude, Advent is a slow anticipatory buildup that makes the ultimate climax of the utterly incomprehensible incarnation that much more thrilling when it does occur.  What I'm saying is, Advent is foreplay. 

danhauge
danhauge

I'd have to do a bit more thinking about Advent specifically, but my initial response is to agree with your statement, "especially with new people". I think sometimes we underestimate people in general--often the reason someone would consider checking out the church in the first place precisely because they want something different than what they've been experiencing in the culture at large. I know that the evangelical church can overdo the "come out of this wicked culture" routine, but I think there's something at it's core there. An alternative way of being human, that follows the challenge of Jesus to resist our cultural idols, is precisely one gift the church has to offer people who are questioning.

CarrieWalker
CarrieWalker

I could be misunderstanding you, but it seems as though your arugments for letting Advent go is the culture is too powerful.

 

Isn't the whole point of the gospel *in spite of* culture? 

 

[I grew up with Advent.] 

_JacquiB
_JacquiB

Born, raised and confirmed Lutheran here (though Lutheran-ish is a much better descriptor now), so yes, I grew up with Advent. And the older I get, I'm becoming more and more the type that loves Advent and Lent more than Christmas and Easter. But this year Advent has been doing things to me that it never has before. We're using God is in the Manger by Bonhoeffer at my house this year and day two has haunted me from the first time I heard it. Here's the text. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts. http://www.fministry.com/2011/12/dietrich-bonhoeffer-waiting-is-art.html?m=1

Raindaisie
Raindaisie

The first church I went to a few years back did Advent. I wasn't a Christian yet at that point. I was going to this church that valued the idea of 'belonging before believing' and I wasn't sure if I was a believer. I was very new to the ideas of faith and didn't really know anything about the bible. That first advent was life changing for me -- literally. And as a new believer, transitioning from the Christmas season being about shopping and presents and parties and decorating to being about this period of waiting for and then celebrating Jesus' birth was huge. Celebrating advent turned the weeks leading up to Christmas about something more. It gave me space to meditate about my own longing and waiting for Christ. Advent gave the season a depth and meaning that didn't exist for me before. I still celebrate Advent every year and I'm thankful my faith journey began in a church that taught me about the season.

MarkSimon1
MarkSimon1

I am with you on this one Bo. I have read, and at times been sickened by, the countless number of people singing the praises of Advent starting. However, to me it seems like it has become a new marketing strategy by the Church. "Come and celebrate the season of Advent with us... at our church building". 

 

I have grown weary of the capitalistic focused church. It feels like so much is focused around "gathering" in a building, collecting funds "for God", and then building bigger building while sustaining larger salaries of paid ministers (BTW, I was a paid minister for 4 years). 

 

Now, I must admit... for a couple of years now I have found myself floating back and forth between "christian" faith and agnostic doubt. However, I still find myself excited about the Christmas season for the simple fact that I have such wonderful memories of LIFE during those times. I remember family, friends, dinners, gatherings... not advent. Yet, all of that, to me, is already leading to a preparation of "the coming Kin" (the "g" was left off on purpose... thank Greg Stevens for that one). 

 

Therefore, I have come to engage the entire month of December as a celebration (not anticipation) of the arrival of this "Kin" and the Spirit that this "Kin". When I wake up every morning, I am excited that I know of this life giving Spirit. Again, this is why it continues to be difficult for me to dive into these calendar days called Advent. Why sit around and talk (prepare) for the party when the party has already started and continues daily throughout the year?

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @MattBarlow Love it! The imagery is my favorite part :) the practice is what I struggle with.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @mattmccrac  3 things:  1) loved your take 2) That 'rythm' stuff is my favortie part. IN FACT if that is what Advent was ... it would  be my favorite hands down.   3) I am using the Vattimo stuff in this Sunday's sermon at the Loft.  What if Christmas IS the extravagence and the gifts and the abumdance? What if that is what Christmas IS ?  

 

-Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @castaway5555 great stuff!  You neglected to tell us if you grew up with Advent ... I'm curious how that flavors your take.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @cammoblammo That was SO interesting to read. Thankyou for highlighting some of the cultural - hemispheric differences.  I read this twice and smiled most of the way through.

 

Thanks for taking the time & effort. I think I'll print this out and take it to staff meeting next week. It might spark a good conversation :)   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @jb00m Hmmmm ... I see.  That is both a little sad and instructive. A theme showing up in these comments is that community matters when it comes to Advent.   -Bo 

_JacquiB
_JacquiB

 @luke_sumner I think this is exactly why I've become so drawn to both Advent and Lent.  These are really the only times of the year when it is somewhat less taboo within typical church circles to acknowledge and (God forbid) even dwell in that darkness and doubt.  Like @raberndt mentioned in another comment (and I loved the language), there seems to be an almost primal flow to the liturgical calendar that mirrors that human experience.  Advent and lent are the only times of the year where there is corporate "permission" to openly experience those pieces that are less happy/warm/joyful and talk about them without well-intentioned people offering to pray for us until things start looking brighter...

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @luke_sumner Holy Moly!  You sure don't sound pentecostal!   Wow. that was deep. 

 

maybe YOU should have written this post :)  -Bo   glad you took the time to chime in!!  

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @TrippHudgins  That is a fantastic point.   Just to be clear ... I did talk about the 12 days of Christmas and Epiphany - so I wasn't approaching Advent in isolation. (just making sure)

 

One last thing: you didn't tell us if you grew up with Advent ... or if you came to your passion for it later!  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @raberndt well done sister, well done indeed.   

 

I was actually going to joke with you after the first paragraph and say "BUT have you BEEN to the mall?"  ;)   but then I got distracted ...    -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @danhauge  i get what your are saying.   I think that my one hold-out hesitation is in to regards to things that developed in Christendom  - the Church and the Culture were not as far apart, adversarial as it is now. 

 

Both secularization and capitalism have changed that.  SO what you are saying is true NOW but ... Advent did not originate in that context ??????  so that is my hiccup.  -Bo  

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @CarrieWalker Thanks for letting me clarify. I feel like modern consumer christmas is Christendom's 'Frankenstein'.  But now we hold onto Advent as counter-culture (?) and roll our eyes at how bad it has gotten. 

I'm just hesitant about it is all.  As a former evangelist I have this nose for opportunity ... and seems like Advent misses the culture opportunity... unless of course people want OUT of the craziness... 

 

I'm conflicted. That's all.   Thoughts?   -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @_JacquiB Whoa. I really liked the opening part!  

"Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them." 

 

It's almost like we OWE it to our culture to hold onto Advent when you put it like that!  

 

-Bo

 

p.s.  There is a funny typo at the bottom :)  It says " the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from Cod".   made me laugh out loud!   But yea... amazing stuff.   

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @Raindaisie Wow! That is a really powerful story.  Thanks for that perspective ... and this kind of story would certainly be my hope if we do go down that road.   -Bo  

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @MarkSimon1 Oh wow!  That was exactly where I was (with Christmas) just 5 years ago ... you have perfectly stated my apprehension with this whole Advent thing .... 

 

Thank you for your passionate response  - and also for taking out the 'G' - we don't need any of that at Christmas :)  -Bo 

Matthew McCracken
Matthew McCracken

 @BoSanders Cool! Could you tell me where Vattimo put together those thoughts on Christmas? I'd love to give it a look see.

 

On 2) Is Advent, you think, more or less than a rhythm? Would it being a rhythm be a bit reductionistic vis-a-vis what is typical? What might that look like for you? I guess it's hard for me to feel the frustration of, perhaps, excessive liturgy and so on because I've never known it (that might be part of the draw for me in expressing the parallel rhythm and narrative).

 

On 3) I'm totally with you. The gratuity of Christmas seems to act as a suspended space from the level expected of us. A kind of state of emergency, where peace and joy etc. have an immanence. That makes sense if, culturally, we're post-Christian (in Caputo's sense of "after" or "through" Christianity) - some values have translated and can be embraced.

 

Yet there is also, pulling on that Ted Jennings' vid, the rightful critique of an utterly preposterous consumerism and the possibility that we're so often simply pretending to peace, joy, hope etc.

 

I know you don't like binaries and dualisms, so is the third way the oscillation and the rhythm of being the site of celebration (for the made possible, the realised etc.) and yearning (for the impossible, the unrealised, the new thing needed etc.).

castaway5555
castaway5555

 @BoSanders Bo, I don't think I grew up with Advent - grew up mostly in the Reformed Church of America - don't think Advent was a part of it, but, frankly, I don't remember. I was ordained in 1970, after Vatican Two and the dynamic conversation between the Reformed and Roman Churches. I think the Seminary (Western Theo in Holland, MI) celebrated Advent (several of our professors were involved in liturgical dialogue), and I've celebrated Advent for all of my ministry (coming up on 43 years). I'm an old dog still trying to learn a few new tricks. As always, I appreciate your work - you and Homebrewed remain a breath of fresh air for me. Blessings ...

cammoblammo
cammoblammo

 @CarrieWalker Mount  Gambier, South Australia. [...cammoblammo shuffles off to update his bio...]

cammoblammo
cammoblammo

 @BoSanders Always happy to start conversations at staff meetings. And MUCH happier to finish them!

 

Those hemispheric differences make a lot of the more secular Christmas traditions somewhat bizarre. It's the middle of summer here, yet we decorate trees and windows with fake snow, dream of a white Christmas and sing Jingle Bells. (That's not even a Christmas song---it's a snow song that has somehow come to be associated with Santa.) Santa wears all the usual winter gear, which can get rather warm, especially if he's also wearing a fake stomach!

 

Moreover, the sun doesn't set until about 8:30 pm at Christmas. So driving around looking at Christmas lights or having candlelit carol services are rather impractical if you have young kids! (And getting kids of all ages to sleep is hard enough on Christmas Eve. Much harder when it's 35C and broad daylight.)

 

There are some Christmas songs we sing---Google 'Six White Boomers' and 'Aussie Jingle Bells' for some Aussie flavour. 'Suzie the Snowflake' and 'Frosty the Snowman' aren't that popular, but I must confess that Stryper's 'Winter Wonderland' is in my December playlist.

TrippHudgins
TrippHudgins

 @BoSanders    Right! Sorry. I did not grow up with Advent or anything remotely Jesusy connected to Christmas. Ours was a purely secular holiday. We never went to church...not once. So. Yeah. I came to Advent in my 20's when I was living in community at Richmond Hill (http://www.richmondhillva.org) and singing in various churches. I lived with people in community who honored Advent rather intentionally. Truth be told, none of the Gospel made sense to me until I started to honor the liturgical calendar/church year. The incarnation made sense after Advent and when we celebrated for 12 days. Then the Resurrection only made sense to me when I participated in the Great Vigil. It really was an epiphany, an "Oh shit" moment. Incredible. 

 

So, yeah. I get your apprehension and, as you said, you don't think of Advent alone, but in reading your ambivalence/ambiguity in responding, I just wanted to hold that up. Hold the church calendar against the commercial calendar. Halloween, Easter, the Baptism of Jesus, Epiphany, Pentecost, etc. Bring it all to bear. Who cares if our neighbors light their houses? It's a party. Let's all play, but let our faith be marked by the calendar. I have no trouble enjoying the secular observances while at the same time holding to the church calendar rather rigorously. It is possible to enjoy both and in different ways. They don't have to be oppositional. No? "It's A Wonderful Life" is contra-capitalism...So is The Grinch. Enjoy! 

 

 

raberndt
raberndt

 @BoSanders Oh, and by the way, I did not really grow up with advent. My childhood church did make a few nods to it- I remember one year we had an advent wreath and some people worried it was too "Catholic." But the few experiences I had with liturgical churches as a child left me fascinated and wanting more. I came to the Episcopal church as a young adult, and I've grown to really appreciate the wisdom of the ancient church calendar.

 

Nothing about the evangelical charismatic tradition irritates me more than the insistence that everything be a happy happy joy joy celebration all the time., because heaven's gonna be a 24/7 praise party, dontcha know. The rhythms of the liturgical calendar, darkness and light, coldness and warmth, springtime and harvest echo the rhythms of our lives and therefore resonate on a primal level, even if we don't always understand what it all means.

 

Don't underestimate your parishoners. I'm not sure which approach will gain you more attendees, but I hope that's not what you're measuring success by. :)

danhauge
danhauge

 @BoSanders That's a fair point, but isn't that true of the entire liturgical calendar as well? It seems like that hiccup would have to apply to Christmas, Lent, the whole works.

It opens up the question of 'evolution' in a different context, doesn't it? How much are we bound to the initial context and intent of these celebrations, and how much can we adapt them to fit the situation we are now in? (I see an interesting parallel to the discussion about Scripture, but I might be drawing a false connection here. Just throwing things out :)

CarrieWalker
CarrieWalker

 @BoSanders http://www.livinglutheran.com/seeds/10-ways-to-prepare.html#.UMN8LI4voTx 

 

I came across this link to 6 Advent Traditions You May Not Know About via a group on facebook called Occupy Advent. (A Baptist church my ex-husband once worked at in Dallas, TX did the posadas re-enactment each year with the children. They really looked forward to it.)

 

I share this in case you are still discerning if or how to implement Advent traditions with your other service. 

CarrieWalker
CarrieWalker

 @BoSanders Meaning, the church could do a better job of promoting Advent? I'm not sure what "Advent misses the culture opportunity" means. For that matter, I'm not sure what "evangelical" means anymore either.

 

I'd offer that Christmas as Frankenstein has been true far longer than the modern era. It's a co-opted 'pagan' holiday(s) dating back to what, the 3rd century? So many of our traditions this time of year have so very little to do with Jesus. From trees and mistletoe, to the time of year we celebrate it. 

 

Godly Play stories during the time of Advent teach the children (and any adults listening) that 'we're on a journey to Bethlehem. The people believed a king was coming, but it would not turn out to be the kind of king they thought would come. The king who was coming is still coming. And that is a mystery. Sometimes we can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. Long ago the church set aside four weeks for us to get ready to enter or even come close to the mystery of Christmas. It's that big...'

 

I think counter-cultural positions are just as important today as they were when Jesus suggested them. 

 

Just before reaching Advent the lectionary texts had us reading Mark 13 when Jesus foretells the destruction of the temple. It sounds like bad news, but its actually good news. He likens it to being just the beginning of birth pangs. Birth pangs, as I'm told get worse, more intense and more intense until Shazzam! : new life. [As a pregnant for-the-first-time lady, I go off what I'm told for now. Pregnancy during Advent has taken on a whole new meaning for me: waiting, hoping. There's a great blog on it over at Patheos.]

 

And then, we find ourselves in advent, and lectionary texts always begin with the prophets and maybe even some apocalyptic stuff about our current suffering...these readings are designed to help us readers understand that just because things are getting worse doesn't mean hope isn't still drawing closer. (And how much more joyous when we've taken due time to savor with anticipation that coming?) That, in my humble opinion, is a message that will preach to anyone anywhere. Going through shit and getting to something better is a universal experience. 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @mattmccrac  Just to clarify - I'm working off that same EVTC audio and this thing I found when I googled it.  

 

I'm attracted to the alternative rhythm of Advent. I don't know how typical it would be ... I suspect that it is not what other people are after. BUT I am leery about the positioning of Advent over/against Christmas since, like I said in another comment, I feel like consumer Christmas is Christendom's Frankenstein in some sense. 

 

I am going to make a case in my presentation Sunday for the gratuity and extravagance of Christmas :)  Now, I know that nearly every will push back and being repulsed that this might be true!  but that is my job after all (as a facilitator of conversation) 

 

I get the Jennings critique. Outside of the first world ... this is insanity at every level.  I almost hate to even attempt to justify it ... even as a conversation starter ;p

 

I'm impressed that you picked up that I don't like dualism ;) but even more impressed with your alternative proposal!   that is incredibly well said and quite ingenious  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @castaway5555 I hope some day we can have cup of homebrewed coffee together and you tell me stories of those heady days after Vatican II.  I have so many questions :)  -Bo 

 

thanks for writing back in!  That was wonderful to read! 

TrippHudgins
TrippHudgins

 @BoSanders Shit. I didn't mean to blow so many good points on your blog. No offense intended, but I have one last paper to write! Ha!

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @TrippHudgins You make like a dozen excellent points in two paragraphs.  I'm SO glad I asked the follow up question :)  That was great.  -Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @raberndt 1) that Catholic things is a REALLY good point I had forgot about.  When I was in evangelical churches that was always the hesitation / complaint!   Thanks for the spur.

 

2) the problem of perpetual happy-joy is very interesting in contrast to Advent. You have me thinking ...

 

3) We are not after new attendees with this ;)  We are after spiritual vitality and deep engagement.  Whoever and how many ever want to come along 

 

- Bo 

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @danhauge  1) I would absolutely agree that it is true of the entire Church calendar. The difference is that that December is when our culture is the craziest and so the contrast is exaggerated. 

 

2) Oh boy! How I love to talk about  adapt, adjust and absorb (evolution) in theology and church practice. It might be my FAVORITE topic :)

 

3) I would hold off on the Scripture thing until after Christmas ... jk   

 

-Bo 

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