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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.

1 comment:

Berkana said...

The reason I, as a formerly Catholic Christian, do not celebrate Advent is that the Christian calendar as we know it in western Christendom is the result of synchretism and the adulteration of Christianity with European paganism. Christmas was not dated on December 25 until the reign of Constantius II in the fourth century (!). The early Christians did not celebrate such a thing as Advent as we know it now. The date was placed on the Roman feast of Sol Invictus (the invincible Sun), in an attempt to co-opt pagan feasts, and Advent is just a Christian name for an artifact of the pagan wait for the waxing of the sun.

God is a jealous God. In the Old Testament, when Israel adulterated the religion they received through scripture with the pagan practices of their neighbors, God got angry and punished them. Having been raised Catholic, I know how rich in tradition and symbology Advent is, but ascribing new symbology to old spiritual adultery does not sanctify it.

Integrating all this tradition and symbology may seem to be an act of enriching one's faith practice, but by my experience, I know it to be a Trojan horse that historically has ended up masking revealed religion (that which is Biblical only) with the practices of man which adulterate it. Instead of using all this tradition to symbolize all sorts of things and teach lessons, the New Testament shows only that believers should get these lessons from scripture.

We may celebrate and have revelry, but making something sacred which God had not made sacred is not right. God did not accept unauthorized offerings from the sons of Aaron; we should not presume that He would accept our considering holy a calendar neither Biblical nor Christian in its origin.

I commemorate Jesus' birth on Christmas because of the momentum of cultural, but beyond that, I cannot adhere to a calendar that for so many centuries mingled and labeled holy that which was heathen. Such an offering is akin to an unauthorized offering; I know God's feelings by the fact that even Aaron's sons were killed by God when they offered pious acts unauthorized by the Law. God alone has the right to determine what is sacred or not.

I urge you, do not let the lure of these things leaven your practice; a little yeast leavens the whole dough. I know how they are appealing, as do you; do not be deceived. "Do not go beyond what is written". (1 Cor 4:6) And make sure the traditions you do uphold as sacred have actually been handed down by Apostles; there are many who claim such authority who are counterfeit, whose "traditions" infiltrated Christianity centuries after its establishment.

(Scripturally speaking, Jesus was born around the old covenant feast of Sukkoth, but the scriptural proof of that is beyond the scope of my point being made here.)