We need Advent. Why? Because Advent is not Christmas.
The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture says the Church is to be transcultural, contextual, cross-cultural, and counter-cultural. When we, as Christ-followers, follow Church Time vs. mall time, we live out these principles intuitively. By living into Advent, a time of focus on the Second Coming of Christ, as well as his first coming, we are less caught up in the madness of December and what our culture calls “the holidays.”
In Advent, we live in a different rhythm, a rhythm practiced by Christ-followers around the world, today and in centuries past (transcultural and cross-cultural). Not rushing into Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (or sooner) is very counter-cultural. So is celebrating Christmas for the Twelve Days (December 25 to January 6, the date of Epiphany); the Church begins Christmas just as the world ends it. We can be very contextual by speaking the ancient prophetic words of Advent (“coming”) into a modern, next-door world that has lost hope.
Advent is not a warm-fuzzy but rather a real Word to fractured, hysterical people rushing to find happiness and a sense of family in all the wrong places. Advent has hard edges; it looks to the cross that hangs over the manger. It says that Christ will come again and not in swaddling clothes. Yet, when the madness of December is over in the mall, the Church will still be standing, like a light on a hill, giving direction and hope to all who have lost their way. As “the holidays” become 75% off in the world, the Church says that Christmas continues, not with the false tinsel of materialism but with the Word made flesh.
We need the fasting and introspection Advent invites us to. As the days in the Northern Hemisphere get darker, we need to reflect on the darkness of our hearts, a darkness which keeps us from full fellowship with God. John 1:5, part of the Gospel reading appointed for Christmas Day, only makes transformative sense if we have been through Advent: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” We must know what that darkness is to understand the strength of the Light. Advent teaches us that strength and helps us offer it to others.
Advent is not a parlor game or something that only certain denominations observe. It is not a time to “get ready for the holidays” in the way most of us understand the purpose of December. Advent is a spiritual transformation gift of time from centuries of Christian thought and practice. We need Advent to understand Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus.
Where have you seen the strength of the Light recently?
Do you feel like you need Advent? Why or why not?
Valerie Hess is an author, instructor in the Spring Arbor University’s Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation and Leadership (MSFL) program, retreat speaker, musician, mother and pastor’s wife. She does a weekly blog for the MSFL program and has written numerous articles, mostly on the themes of spiritual formation through the spiritual disciplines and church music. She has written three books: Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines (co-authored with Dr. Marti Watson Garlett), Spiritual Disciplines Devotional: A Year of Readings and The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation" (co-authored with Lane M. Arnold). Her husband is an Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, CO. She has two daughters.