Friday, December 5, 2008

Advent reflection 2: The End of Advent

There have been some very good questions coming my way about Advent, and why we (the church) do things the way we do. I want to reflect on the important season of Advent over the course of the next few weeks, and I actually began these reflections a couple of days ago.

This time, I want to encourage you toward an article that appeared recently in
First Things, which is a wonderful journal about religion and culture. The article, by Joseph Bottum, is entitled “The End of Advent” and it reflects very helpfully on why Advent is so crucial to the Christian life.

A couple of key excerpts:

...the disappearance of Advent seems especially disturbing—for it’s injured even the secular Christmas season: opening a hole, from Thanksgiving on, that can be filled only with fiercer, madder, and wilder attempts to anticipate Christmas.

I find this to be the crux of the matter, and a huge reason why Advent is so important. Why, after all, DO we anticipate Christmas? It is because of what Christians have historically focused on during Advent: our growing awareness of our need for a Savior, and our longing and anticipation for the coming of One.

Advent has been lost, though-- and in losing it, we’ve lost the purpose for Christmas. (Why do we need a celebration of the incarnation of God Himself if, after all, we have lost our sense of awareness of the need for a Savior?) The fruit of this is that Christmas becomes a nostalgia-fest, looking backward instead of looking forward. Here’s more from the article:

Maybe that’s what has happened to Christmas. The ideas and the emotions have all broken free and smashed their way across the fields. From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s I heard the bells on Christmas Day / Their old, familiar carols play to Irving Berlin’s I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know, there has been for a long time now something oddly backward looking about Christmas music—some nostalgia that insists on substituting its melancholy for the somber contrition and sorrow of forward-looking Advent.

Ironically, such a nostalgic approach to the days leading up to Christmas-- I won’t call that Advent, since it clearly isn’t-- too often longs for the Christmas of our childhood. And what was that? A time when we couldn’t wait for Christmas to get here, yet a sense that, daily, it WASN’T here yet. A time when the days before Christmas had something oddly special about them. Bottum captures this exactly:

When I was little—ah, the nostalgia of the childhood memoir—I always felt that the days right before Christmas were a time somehow out of time. Christmas Eve, especially, and the arrival of Christmas itself at midnight: The hours moved in ways different from their passage in ordinary time, and the sense of impending completion was somehow like a flavor even to the air we breathed.

Yet, even that has shadows of that true sense of Advent, doesn’t it? A longing, an anticipation that was so real and present that it shaped how the days even felt.

Isn’t that what Christmas-- and Advent-- bring to the Christian’s life? We know our need; we know also that our need has been, is being, and finally and completely will be met in Christ. And we long for that in Advent, which leads us to celebrate its realization at Christmastide.

I highly recommend Joseph Bottum’s brief article, “
The End of Advent.”

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