I wasn’t raised in a so called “liturgical” church. Lent and Advent are relatively new to me. But I have become increasingly attracted to elements of traditional worship, particularly the Church Year. The church that I serve as worship pastor has always observed Advent to some degree and I am looking forward to planning the worship services for the fast-approaching season.
I hope I get it right. (Now which Sunday do we light the pink candle? And why is it pink? Or was that purple? ) Even among the staff and other worship planners here at my church, there is some confusion. I’m hoping to bring clarity and real meaning to the season. But I’m the first to confess that this is somewhat new to me.
In my ignorance, I always thought that Advent was just a “traditional” way of celebrating the Christmas season...sort of a way of “putting Christ back into Christmas.” True. It does that. I also thought that it was a way of telling the complete story of Christmas. Yes. It does that, too.
But Advent is more than just a prelude to the celebration of Christ’s birth. If I recall correctly, Advent developed along similar lines of Lent in that it was to be a time of spiritual introspection and cleansing. Sort of a recalibrating of our lives. It couldn’t come at a better time when our culture is fixated on consumerism. It is true that we do seem to consider giving and love more easily during the Christmas season. But our capitalist system (and I’m generally a fan) is eager to leverage any situation for financial gain. It’s hard to say whether or not “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” or “profit and bottom line” is the dominant theme from October 31 to December 25.
In such a culture, Advent is a welcome corrective for those who will enter into its tensions.
I’m grateful for a senior pastor who, like me, did not grow up with high church liturgy but is willing to consider observing some of those traditions, provided it is done with understanding. He has chosen “upheaval” for his preaching theme on the second, third, and fourth Sundays of Advent. I’m preaching the first Sunday and I am eager to embrace the same idea.
I think we could all use some upheaval in our lives. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. I, along with you, I’m sure, will be glad to see the “upheaval of evil” when Christ returns. Christ’s Second Advent is where we begin our contemplation for the season. I’m looking forward to studying, reflecting, and finally preparing the sermon for that topic. But that’s not the only upheaval we need. On the second Sunday of the season, we consider the ministry of John the Baptist who calls us to repentance and to make room for the Savior in our hearts. If we’re honest, that could be costly and messy. Of course, as we move closer to Christmas Day, our thoughts turn to Christ’s first coming and the “Joy to the World” that he brought. So very true. But Christ’s coming also surprised and shocked the religious elite of his day. The cleansing of the Temple in Luke 19:45-48 is only one example of the upheaval he brought during his first advent. We should not be surprised, then, as we consider the mission of Christ and the coming of his Kingdom when we experience personal upheaval in our own lives as we allow the Spirit of God to “clean our house.”
Advent is not for sissies. It’s not nice and neat, warm and cozy like the cultural narratives we cherish during the Christmas season. Not that those stories are wrong, per se. I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year. But Advent is not the same as the Christmas season. If there was one word that would characterize Advent it would be “yearning.” Do you yearn for the end of sin, evil, and brokenness in this world? Do you yearn to walk closer with God and to live a more holy life? Do you yearn for everything to finally be at peace – to be finally made whole? The fulfillment of all those yearnings will no doubt require a good deal of upheaval in all of our lives. Are you ready for that?
“O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” Phillips Brooks