Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Advent

The Advent wars have begun. Every year, the worship chair wants to start Christmas on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. She wants to sing Christmas carols. We have the same discussion year after year. Since I choose the texts, hymns and sermons, I win. But, of course, it is a hollow victory.

So, I am beginning to think about Advent. What are we waiting for? When I was thinking in terms of the incarnation, it was easy. Advent is a time for us to prepare for the incarnation. We need to think about what difference the incarnation means. Which has always meant that we need to realize that we are sinners and need Jesus for salvation. (Advent=penitence).

I believe the church should be counter cultural when the culture is against Christianity. I believe cultural Christmas is not Christian. I believe it is a symptom and sign of the culture's idolatry of materialism and greed. So that makes me an even stronger opponent of starting Christmas at Thanksgiving (gee, can we start after Halloween, that's when the stores put out their Christmas displays).

Now, though, I am beginning to wonder. What was the meaning of Jesus death? I don't buy substitutionary atonement for lots of reasons. I don't believe God sent Jesus to earth so that he could die on a cross. I think death happened (the same way it did for Dr. King and Msgr. Romero). I think the church tried to understand Jesus' death and its meaning. So, if the early church understood the meaning of the resurrection as Paradise being here and now (or the realm of God being here and now), then what of Advent?

"Our understandings are always provisional." An OT prof would say.

At least I have a few weeks to begin to parse this out. (I have a feeling it is the work of a life time.)

8 comments:

cheesehead said...

I don't buy substitutionary atonement either.

Spouse and I had quite a discussion last week after church because he thought my sermon *was* all about substitutionary atonement. (It wasn't. It was really about incarnation.) But that discussion told me that sometimes I need to put the dots a smidge closer together for the people.

Purechristianithink said...

I'm a huge heretic when it comes to Advent purity. I think if the church is not talking about Christmas in December then we cede the field to the voices of Christmas as consumer opportunity. I think we need to counter the culture's version of Christmas with the Church's news of hope and incarnation at the same time the culture is broadcasting its version. What happens now is that while many pastors are patting themselves on the back for "holding the line" on Advent, people are hungry to hear a different word about Christmas. The incarnation, and other themes of the season are huge and important. They take a while to explore and unpack. You could spend all of December on it. If we refuse to talk about these things except during the "liturgically correct" time of December 24th-Jan 6th, (when most folks are visiting Grandma or skiing or otherwise not in church), we miss a huge opportunity.

Joan Calvin said...

purechristianithink Thanks for that comment. That's a great way of looking at it.

Songbird said...

I echo pcit and would add that if we wait for that window to sing Christmas carols, our children will never learn them. We heard them everywhere, including in school, but that is no longer the case.

cheesehead said...

Hmmm...the people begging for Christmas carols at my church right after T-giving are not parents of small children. They are 70+. (I understand that may be a Midwestern cultural difference. Our kids still learn the carols in school.)

I try to make Advent an incarnational season, and spend those four weeks unpacking it, maybe with limited success, but I try. For me, Advent is the counter voice to the dominant culture's version of Christmas. Again, that's what I try to convey.

Joan Calvin said...

Cheesehead, you are right about who wants Christmas carols at Advent. It's the 70+ers. And they are the ones who are there at Christmastide. I suppose it's the way it used to be. Thought Songbird and purechristianithink raise interesting ideas.

Anonymous said...

"Cultural Christmas" is the link bred in our bones from centuries past when our ancestors gathered to celebrate the light over-coming the darkness. It was the early Church that co-opted the natural celebrations of the season to promote another interpretation of the light over-coming the darkness. So let the church do its thing and the "culture" do its thing.

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