What I'm Doing

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rediscovering Advent

Ever wonder why "the Holidays" are so full of energy and yet so tiresome at the same time? It's because we're missing a season!

As a sort of follow-up to my "Advent, Part I" post, here is a video made by "wezlo," a Baptist pastor up in New Jersey, about Advent.

As a side note, check out his site, CrossPointings.org, where you can find his blog (under the "Musings" menu), and his post on Christdot with this video.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent, Part I

As I seem to say at the beginning of all my posts, it's been a while. I need to post more often.

So, to the point of my post: Advent has begun!

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Advent is the season in the Christian Calendar before Christmas. In the West, Advent lasts for four Sundays, starting with the Sunday nearest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30) and ending on Christmas Day. In the East, a similar season is observed, beginning the day after the Feast of St. Philip (November 15), thus lasting 40 days, similar to Lent.

Advent is a time when Christians remember the waiting of the world for the Savior, and also a time when we especially remember that we are awaiting His return. As such, Advent is not so much a joyous season of festivals and celebration, but a somber season of repentance, preparation, and waiting.

In my mind, Advent is like the twilight. The darkness of night is ending, and we are seeing the first hopes of the dawn. During Advent, twilight moves to dawn, and then, on Christmas Day, sunrise as the Light breaks into the World. Another illustration would be to remember that Christmas occurs near the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. In many ancient religions, the Winter Solstice was seen as a triumph of light over darkness, because, up to that day, the days were getting darker (the sun was out less and less), but after the Solstice, the sun begins to be out more and more. (As a side note, this interaction of darkness and light is part of why I think it is silly to dismiss Christmas as merely a Christianizing of a pagan holiday, but that's another topic for another day.)

As I said before, Advent ends on Christmas Day, or, more traditionally, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord. Actually, perhaps a better way of saying that would be, Advent culminates with the Nativity feast, since that is the destination of the whole season.

Here is where traditional Christian observance is at complete odds with the popular observance of Christmas. In popular culture (including most Protestant churches), the "Christmas season" has taken the place of Advent (although it certainly seems to start earlier every year). In contrast to the somber preparation of Advent, the popular "Christmas season" is a time of parties, feasting, celebration, and, of course, stress. Instead of self-reflection, we are consumed with busyness, making it to this or that party, enduring shopping trips to the mall, singing carols, etc., etc., etc.

Like Advent, the popular "Christmas season" is also moving toward Christmas Day. However, while one might say Advent culminates with Christmas Day, the "Christmas season" merely ends. For many (including myself), we are starting to get sick of Christmas even before Christmas Eve. Christmas Day comes, we celebrate with, perhaps, one last, fatigued bang, and then it's all over. We take down the decorations and (finally) get back to normal life.

The difference here is that, in traditional Christian observance, on Christmas Day, the Christmas season is just beginning. The Church has been preparing for and awaiting the coming of the Lord, and now, finally, He is here, and we can finally celebrate! The Christmas season is a season of celebration, and lasts for the twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (January 6). Epiphany, in the West, is the day that the Magi (Wise Men, Three Kings, etc.) visited the infant Christ. In the East, January 6 is referred to as Theophany and commemorates the Baptism of Christ.

Oh, and for those of you who may have wondered what the song, "Twelve Days of Christmas," is all about, since Christmas is only one day, there's the answer: the song is referring to the real Christmas season, which lasts twelve days. Also, according to Snopes.com, contrary to a popular misconception, the song was not used by persecuted Catholics in Reformation England as a secret catechism. Just thought I'd mention that.

So, why don't many Protestants observe Advent? Generally speaking, Protestants, to some degree or another, rejected the Christian Calendar, with its holy days, great feasts, etc. as being merely "the traditions of man," and an unnecessary encumbrance on the individual believer. While many Protestant denominations have retained the days of Christmas and Easter (though removed from the larger context of their relative seasons), the Puritans even went so far as to reject those days, as well.

More recently, however, many Protestant denominations are rediscovering the Christian calendar, and Advent has been experiencing some degree of revival in non-Catholic/-Orthodox churches.

Originally, I planned on writing about why the revival of Advent in Protestant churches is a good thing (and why more should consider it), and offer some suggestions I've heard on how we can integrate Advent into our lives, but this post has gotten long enough already, so I'll try to come back and write a Part II.