It’s too early to be blogging about Advent.
I know what you’re thinking. Well, ok, I know what you might be thinking. Either a: “what is Advent?” or b: “too early? It’s half over already!”
This is my first time giving Advent a try, so I’m kind of fumbling my way through here. I had no plans to observe it coming into the season, but some friends from church invited me to join them for a study and I said yes.
I think most of us in the group have never done this before; it’s not a very Baptist thing to do. Advent is the time Christians long ago set aside to prepare for Christmas. It’s a time for pondering the mystery of God becoming one of us.
Full disclosure, I’m a huge fan of the Incarnation, but not so big on finding more things to celebrate. I have a hard enough time infusing one day with meaning—Advent just feels like a whole month of days to fail at being holy. Plus I have a slightly radical streak that rebels against the whole idea of being compelled to celebrate something at an artificial and arbitrary time. Why can’t we be thankful all year? Why can’t we celebrate God with us every day? Why can’t we revel in the resurrection continuously?
By now you can probably tell the problem isn’t Advent. The problem is me.
The problem isn’t the suggestion that we spend a month preparing to celebrate a day that changed every other day since. The problem is the temptation to be a perfectionist, making up laws and judging myself righteous by them. Maybe some people feel compelled to do this, but that’s not Advent’s fault. At least not if you’re a Baptist.
In my context Advent is something that’s not from the Bible, but is a good, biblical suggestion from the broader church across generations and denominations. It’s an opportunity to take or leave. Have a hard time making much of Christ on Christmas? Here are some ideas to get you in the spirit.
Of course, leave it to me to take a time set aside for pondering Christ and instead pondering my own heart and habits.
On the bright side, I’m making some encouraging discoveries:
First, I’m discovering that celebrating and meditating on the Incarnation is something I do all the time. I owe that to my theology professors at Dallas Seminary. They taught me that God becoming one of us is central to everything we do. We know the Father through the Son. We are sent into the world just as the Son was sent to us. We become all things to all people so that we might save some in the same way Jesus became man without giving up His divinity. God’s revelation is always contextualized, and that’s a gracious gift. To Drs. Burns, Horrell, Kreider, and Svigel, THANK YOU! What a gift!
Second, (and hopefully this doesn’t get me into too much trouble), there’s a sense in which we celebrate Advent without knowing it. We put up the lights after Thanksgiving, we play Christmas music all month, we send out cards (sometimes) and bake goodies and watch Christmas movies. You can do all of these without savoring the birth of Jesus, but each one is an invitation to ponder, to meditate, to prepare your heart for the big day. It’s not much like the way the church has celebrated in the past, but it’s an opportunity to accomplish the same goals.
I don’t know if I’ll follow an Advent curriculum next year. We’ll see how the rest of this year pans out. But I’m all for taking advantage of the traditions we already have and share, for redeeming the culturally neutral activities.
And if you’re not already doing something for Advent, I invite you all to do the same. Let the things you’re already doing for the season invite you to ponder what Jesus did and prepare your heart for Christmas Day. While you hang your lights, ponder what it means that Jesus was the light that came into the darkness (John 1:4, 5). While you listen to Christmas music, ponder the image of God in man that longs for the love and peace and joy that Jesus offers us. While you bake goodies to share with family and friends, consider the joy the Father had in sending His Son to us—even the joy the Son had in giving Himself to us.
May your days be merry and bright!