I know it’s a bit late, but I decided to do a post on Advent.
Advent is a period of preparation that is supposed to help you get ready for Christmas. It’s not commanded in the Bible but a lot of pastors, including me, find it to be very helpful for people especially in the days that we’re living in.
We live in a culture that is constantly trying to groom and shape us. It does so usually because it wants to sell us something. But if you let yourself be subjected to this long enough, it starts affecting not just your consumer preferences, but your understanding of what you think ‘is’ and ‘is not’ normal.
BUY THIS CAR!
WEAR THIS DRESS!
GAIN THIS BODY!
Let this go on long enough and pretty soon you might find yourself, quite innocuously at first, judging a parent for how they dressed their kids for church one Sunday. Either that or judging the pastor for how much weight he’s gained this season…ahem!
And if you let THAT go on, it also starts affecting your character and identity.
This is why I think repeated observance of calendar events like Advent is a good idea.
Advent was invented some time around the fifth century. By this time, the church was already using a whole calendar of Holy days that it wanted Christians to observe.
As far as I can tell, the idea of filling the calendar with holy days was taken in part from two places: The Jewish Scriptures and Rome who conquered a large and eclectic variety of people groups. For Rome, the question was: ‘how do you get all these various people groups, with radically different identities, cultures, languages, and customs to form a singular coherent Roman Empire?’ In other words, how do you get people to set aside their own culture and identity and instead start seeing themselves as Romans?
The answer they came up with was ruthlessly ingenious. In order to build a unified empire out such people, you need to conquer not just their armies, but also their “time” and “space”.* And so after conquering people’s land, Rome would erect statues of Caesar, as many as they could all across the outskirts of the Empire. And they would put up signs that asserted Roman glory, sticking them in every space they could find. And secondly, they would force all of those conquered folks to adopt Roman calendars which all were loaded with Romans religious festivals and holidays. The idea was that if you conquered people’s time and space, you could shape their identity into pretty much whatever you wanted it to be.
The Fifth century church realized this as well. They eventually went on to invent a new Gregorian calendar and stuck a whole bunch of holidays in there, including advent, and then had Christians everywhere follow it.
Now, I’m not into controlling, coercing or conquering. And so I personally don’t make Advent too big of a deal at our church. But there are some days that I wonder (as evidenced by this post) if I’m making a mistake.
If you are serious about your Christian identity, having a Liturgical calendar that you faithfully abide by, especially in a world that constantly bombards you with advertisements and identity politics, is especially helpful. In other words, consistently observing things like Lent and Advent can help you solidify your identity as a Christian in ways that help insulate you against a world that is always trying to tell you who you are and how you should act.
So how do you gainfully apply this today?
With time, I think you need to prioritize church gatherings, no matter how small or trivial. Let events like Bible study, prayer meetings or even coffee with church friends, fill your calendar.
And when you come, don’t hijack the culture by only talking about what you are comfortable with. Ask questions. Learn and let what you learn shape who you are and how you live that out in your life.
With space, I imagine the obvious Advent tradition is best. Put up a Christmas tree and decorate it with your family. Though I imagine for that to work, you need to keep the Christmas tree’s Christian meaning at the forefront of your mind.
In Dt 21:22-23 says ‘cursed is a man who hangs on a tree’. But in Gal 3:13, that curse is reversed in Christ. To make a long story short, Jesus turns that curse on its head by hanging on a tree…The Cross. But instead of being a curse, this tree blesses. Furthermore, the blessing that comes from this tree is such that it neutralizes and reverses any and every curse as far as those curses might be found. Always remember that the original meaning of a Christmas tree is the Cross of Christ. Practice putting it up yearly with this in mind, and soon you might find that the Christian meaning in the tree reinforces an identity that is in your heart.
So maybe this Advent you can do a quick inventory of your heart. What sins and idols are you enslaved by? One way you can tell is by looking at your personal calendar (time) and your living room (space). What has so conquered you that it now dominates your time and space? What has wrested control of your schedule and made the space around you so chaotic that it always seems to be spiraling out of control?
You see? The early church leaders were pretty wise. They realized that your biggest problem isn’t a foreign political power, though that would be bad too. Your biggest problem is the sin in your life. And that affects everyone, rich or poor, peaceful or war torn countries, men and women…everybody.
*originally from a lecture I heard Carl Truman give during a Church History class in 2006 at Westminster Theological Seminary.