“Our ancestors, in an all out effort to save the holy celebration of Christmas, very wisely included a time of preparation, an Advent season, to properly prepare for our Lord’s birthday. They did not feel spiritually ready for Christmas until they had prayed, fasted, and examined their hearts in a season of winter Lent—i.e., Advent.” (Pastor Bill Hinson)
I’m struggling with a Faith that calls for penitence. It’s not the penitence per se. No, my real struggle is more precisely that of elevating a Faith that calls for introspection and sacrifice and thinking of the other in a culture that puts a premium on comfort, convenience, and feeling good. Especially when that culture has made its inroads into the Church and a popular understanding (or misunderstanding, as it may be) of Christ and the Gospel, it’s especially hard to argue for “deny yourself and take up your cross” without feeling like a real wet blanket.
Had an organist at one of my early churches who totally railed against “Prayers of Confession” in worship. Her words serve to epitomize, for me, the sentiments of a feel good culture: “All they [prayers of confession] serve to do is make people feel guilty in worship… such negative energy… such prayers are totally passé and out of touch with the times!”
And, along comes Advent…
Popular sentiment – not just from the culture, but within the Church – is that it’s Christmas. So much so that “God Bless the typical middle-of-the-road Protestant Pastor if there’s much talk of saving the Hymns of Christmas until December 25th (and thereafter).” Gone is any notion that Advent, which means “to come,” might call for some consideration, not just of his first coming, but of His coming here, now… and His coming again in His fulness at the end of Time! And gone, in a world that values comfort and ease, is any notion that these “Second Comings” might demand our adjusting our lives and living – any notion that God may not be happy with the ways we’re doing things. Yes, gone is any sense of Advent as a season of penitence and soulful preparation.
It can almost make one feel like the Grinch to advocate silence and solitude (for introspection)… and confession… and a real, substantial divestment of self for the sake of the poor and downcast.
Still, at the potential cost of being such a “Scrooge” and of potentially promoting “bad feelings,” I’d like to suggest a few things we might be about on the way to observing a “Holy Advent”—a holy season of preparing for his Comings in our lives. This list is by no means exhaustive. Still, it’s enough to suggest real channels of meaning and joy in the days ahead:
- observe a regular [daily] quiet time… give yourself to a prayerful reading of the Gospels (especially the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke) and/or some other seasonal devotional guide… but, as much as you read, be still and listen…
- take on one of any number of mission/outreach projects to those less fortunate
- consider the needs of the homebound, the grieving, the recuperating—and do something about it: a note, a call, a visit!
- extend or receive a word of forgiveness—especially the one so long overdue!
- attend worship services and programs slated for the coming weeks in your area… and prayerfully consider who it is (among your neighbors, family, co-workers,…) that you can and will invite (even bring) to upcoming events
Whatever we do (or don’t do), my prayer for us all is that we’ll not settle for the lesser preparations for Christmas: the shopping, the parties, the decorating,… Of course, none of these are bad. But, succumbing to them at the price of a “Holy Advent” can be just one more way the really Great can be lost in a sea of good.
Perhaps Pastor Hinson summed it up best: “Please do not let the world rearrange our ancient calendar. First comes Advent and then Christmas. I guarantee Christmas will be much better when preceded by a prayerful Advent.”