12/18/2009 7:00 AM
In the past three weeks, I've been to three churches that had three different approaches to Advent. (Perhaps one of them is like your congregation!)
On the first week of the start of the church year, I saw the "Recognition-Avoidance" approach. The nondenominational church's worship leader made a passing reference to the fact that it was the "start of the Christmas season in the church. (Pause) Or, actually, it's the start of Advent." He then went on to read a "traditional Advent scripture," (which he immediately tied to Easter!) and thus end-eth the Advent/Christmas references for the rest of the hour. On Sunday 2, I saw the "Satisfaction Guaranteed" approach when I attended a United Methodist Church that sings Christmas carols during a pre-service hymn-sing but faithfully sticks to Advent themes within the service itself. And last Sunday, I witnessed the "Chris-adven-tmas" approach when I visited a Baptist church where we read a brief Advent liturgy, sang a few Christmas carols, heard a long sermon that was vaguely Advent-ish, and closed with "Go Tell it On the Mountain."
Did you catch the common theme? Like a child that can't avoid poking the presents under the tree, all three had a hard time with waiting to celebrate Christmas.
Now, I definitely won't claim to be an expert on church worship; for some reason, seminary students in Christian education are frequently not required to take a worship class, so I've got a hole in whichever part of my brain stores church knowledge big enough to drive a small truck through. But it doesn't take a genius to see that culturally, we have little patience with anything that requires us to wait to get what we want. Consider…
- We upgrade our Internet download speeds to more quickly get to our email, shopping sites, music downloads, and the like…and still get impatient.
- Instant "foods" are found in practically every kitchen in the country, and more than one cookbook offers 3-ingredient recipes.
- Self-scanning aisles in the grocery store give us the illusion of speed, even though they often are no faster.
- Subliminal learning (in which auditory signals are played below one's level of consciousness) is making a comeback. Who wants to actually take the time to learn a new language, quit smoking, or lose weight the traditional way, after all?
- We write in bullet points. 'nuff said.
So it's not at all surprising that churches leapfrog over Advent. And anyway, Advent itself is a condensed period of time. Who has a pregnancy that lasts just 4 weeks, after all?
The Advent season in my own family's life has lasted much, much longer. My wife and I have been in the process of adopting our first child for over 4 years now, so I've had some time to settle into this season of life. "Christmas" for us has been one of those events we know and trust will come, but for the most part we just wait and prepare ourselves as much as possible. And if I'm going to be really honest, I'd have to admit that I haven't exactly spent all that much time in preparation. I, too, want to avoid as much of the planning and preparation as possible and just get to the end. But adoptions can't be rushed, so each day I get a little better at the waiting process.
The key, as I understand it, is that Advent is to be a time of ACTIVE waiting. The American Saturnalia which goes on all around us is not the only participatory option available to Christians. Instead, we seek to settle down, to quiet our hearts, and actually listen actively (that is, with full sensory engagement) to the yearnings and promises of scripture. We can clear the clutter out of our spiritual lives, mimicking the expectant mother's nesting instinct and behavior. We can engage in simple and profound acts of kindness, mercy, and justice, all "little kingdom" signs that herald the coming of God's reign among us. There's plenty we can do that is active and meaningful without jumping in and pretending it's Christmas.
Soon enough, I know, Christmas will come. But not too soon, for I've still got preparations of the heart to take care of. In a world where the instant message often interrupts my day and demands my attention, and in a culture where the "happy holidays" are essentially a two month time of progressively greater celebrations, I'm grateful that Advent has me in its grip.
~ by Tim Gossett
Copyright ©2009 Different Voice
1 comment(s) so far...
By MikeP on
12/18/2009 8:13 AM
Re: Lessons from a 4-year Advent
Tim -- A beautiful reflection on Advent and how the adoption process mirrors our need for patience and waiting in order to receive God's blessings fully!
As far as things liturgical go, I fear keeping Advent "pure" (no, not your term, but mine) is a losing (if not lost) battle. Perhaps there are redemptive ways for Christians to participate within the "American Saturnalia" (what an apt phrase) -- being in but not of. If "seekers" come to worship in December, then sing the carols -- but preach Advent! All of the Christian life is Advent, at any rate, as we wait for Christ to come again -- not only at The End of All, but every day into our world and lives.
Again, though, thank you for beautiful words to start the day!