More on Advent

The great discussion on the previous post spurred some additional thinking. I started to comment there but it got too long and well, it’s my blog 🙂

Teri made an excellent point about Advent providing space for grief. That is huge. I almost decided that Advent is essential for that reason alone. Almost, but not quite.

Having reflected on it more: I think that reduces Advent too much. It almost becomes a mood rather than a theological moment or spiritual season. Yes, Advent is decked in purple and expressed in minor key, but not entirely. (I like the shift to blue, myself.)

Advent is about preparation, and yes, preparation is about expectations that have not yet been fulfilled, which can bring pain. But waiting can also be deeply joyful. We wait in confidence for God’s action in the world, knowing that it is coming. A lot of people gripe about the Advent hymns, and I don’t think it’s because they are unfamiliar—they aren’t; many churches have been doing Advent for decades. Rather I think people complain because some of the hymns are melancholy and brooding. Others don’t resonate well in 21st century December, with talk of deserts and gloomy clouds of night and six-winged seraphs, ever more and ever more.

Here’s what I’m saying: Waiting means something different to the couple that’s been in the throes of infertility for two years, and has just suffered another disappointment, than it does for the couple whose baby is due next week. It is good for them to be sensitive to one another, sure, and the church has to make room for both. But waiting isn’t always decked in purple and played in minor key.

And at the same time, Christmas—the fulfillment of the promise of God’s love being birthed in the world in a particular way—is often joyful, yes, but it can also be deeply reflective, quiet, and even tenuous. It’s “Joy to the World” and “Still, Still, Still.” What does it mean that Love is already here? How are we to live? Those are introspective questions. They are convicting questions. They should evoke a bit of fear and trembling.

I totally agree that Advent can be a corrective to the jingly jangly cheer that is so jarring, and even hurtful, to people who just aren’t feeling it. But Christmas can be that corrective too. There are ways to minister to the brokenhearted while also preaching Christmas. True Christmas, not the storebought version.

I think this relates to the other comment I especially loved, on the importance of patience.

“Right this very minute” is exactly what our culture is telling us. We are unhappy or depressed as you say because what we want we can’t have right now. (stable economy, healthy home prices, low unemployment numbers, etc.) And as much as we want the kingdom to be fully present on earth, it is not. For some reason, God is making us wait.

That is the message that the church needs to proclaim during the Advent season. Some things are worth waiting for…love cannot be hurried…be patient.

It seems that we as a country need that message more than ever, and the church has the opportunity during Advent to live into that.

This is one of the best articulations of the need for Advent that I’ve read.

I guess I would say in response though: The economy will still be bad on December 25. Home prices will still be bad. The kingdom will not have come, whatever that means to us. There’s nothing magical about December 25. It is a human construct. So we’ll do Advent, and then Christmas will come… and then what? We’re still waiting. Unless Christmas is about something more fundamental and life-giving, and if it is fundamental and life-giving, then withholding that message is not helpful, it’s borderline cruel.

I guess it all comes down to how we ‘diagnose’ the culture. I agree that by and large we are an impatient people, and maybe, perhaps, “Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart” is what is needed. I am as concerned as anyone about the instant gratification culture we seem to live in.

But this year, for some reason, I am inclined to trust that people really do know what they need. This leaning towards Christmas is the culture’s way of saying “We are ready for some good news, NOW.” This year, I’m feeling more inclined to respond by hitting the already of the Christmas story, more than the not yet.

Forget “wait for the Lord,” I’m hearing strains of “Be thou my vision.” Let’s do some realized eschatology: Where is Christ already come? Where has Love gained a foothold in your life today? Where is the light breaking in right now? Those are good questions that can be engaged in worship and education, even if the Chrismon tree is still stuck in mothballs.

I’m kinda with Rumi anyway: how much can we really prepare for this message anyway? “There is no getting ready, other than grace.”

8 thoughts on “More on Advent

  1. Andy James

    I’m looking at spending part of a day next week giving a final sketch to Advent worship plans, and after these thoughts and others, I’m reconsidering my usual staunch resistance to the throes of Christmas in the church for a couple reasons.

    First, we’re doing weekly Advent Taizé services to make space for the hope to take root. With these providing a space for me and others to do this, I think it will be a little easier to let go of one hymn each Sunday that looks more toward the Christmas season.

    And second, I’m feeling that same need to celebrate a bit more these days. The lectionary this fall has had us in some pretty dark spots – Lamentations and Jeremiah are not easy reading! – and the congregation I serve needs some more light in their lives after suffering through all this!

    Maybe more than anything, I’m starting to give in a bit in my old age. Or maybe not – we’ll see how it all comes down in the end!

    1. MaryAnn

      Interesting about the lectionary! I did a sermon series this fall, but it was a pretty heavy one, hitting a lot of pastoral care issues. Thanks for helping me make that connection. I do think my people need some lightness, whether it’s of the Christmasy or Adventy variety.

      It’s so tricky though. We will sing a blending of Advent and Christmas hymns in December, but how will that work? Last year I started out heavy in Advent and gradually got more Christmasy as the month went on, but this year I feel like mixing it up more. Will each worship service make a mini-move from Advent to Christmas? Or am I over thinking it?

      I just now made a list of Advent hymns and Christmas hymns, and made a notation as to whether they are more upbeat or more somber. I think I will use that as a guide.

      I’m also using a liturgy for the Advent wreath that focuses on characters in the Christmas story. So that will be another place where the symbols blend.

  2. Erica

    2 thoughts: good analogy on fertility and advent. Given, I cannot ever compare my experience with truly long term fertility issues, but I spent 1 advent in shock that we were pregnant that easily (and perhaps at the wrong time), basically freaked out; several years later spent a few in the place where, with secondary infertility, I could barely stand all the baby stuff; and now one with the overwhelming joy and anticipation of a brilliant little kicker in my belly. Waiting means something different each year. From joy to sorrow to fear to everywhere in between. My guess is that this is true even for non-fertility-related feelings.

    Second, the point about real Christmas reminds me of the other mistake we make with the two seasons when we skip over the whole slaughter of the innocents thing in Christmas season. Hope and joy are so fragile. That is one of the profound things about God coming as a baby. And things don’t always go right right away. Skip that awful story and you miss the messy truth.

  3. esperanza

    I’m not sure whether my comment belongs here or on the previous post.

    I also can identify with your infertility/pregnant during Advent example. Where I have come to settle (for the moment, anyway!) is that Advent is about more than waiting and preparing. If I leave it with that, then it’s too somber. Hope also has to be in my observances and practices and spirit. Hope and waiting are intertwined. (They are the same word in Spanish, by the way).

    Thanks for the food for thought, as always.

  4. MaryAnn

    Another bit for the discussion–Caroline’s interest in piano has been lagging a bit the last week or two. She is at one of those breakthrough points where she isn’t interested in the music she’s able to play, but needs to practice more to get to the music she IS interested in.

    Let’s just say that the book of Christmas music arrived JUST in time, despite it being 9 days before Thanksgiving. Try as I might, I just can’t get her interested in HYFRYDOL and ABERYSTWYTH… (worship/music nerd joke)

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