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Why Advent? 2

In my last post we took a brief look at Mark D. Roberts' e-book Discovering Advent, in which he suggests that Advent helps us grow in faith and align with Christ.  In this post we're going to take a look at an excellent article by Debra Dean Murphy entitled "The Advent We Hope For: A Modest Proposal."  I recommend reading the article for yourself, but I will offer a few of my own reflections here.

First, I feel I should confess that I myself have failed to properly observe this Advent season.  I am almost already sick of Christmas, having prematurely immersed myself in Christmas festivity.  I'm sure it has something to do with all the Christmas music I've been singing and listening to these past couple weeks, along with all the Christmas movies we've been watching and introducing to our kids.  And it doesn't help that just about all of our gift-exchanging that has already taken place, having given in to the pull to make sure everyone gets their Christmas cards and gifts before Christmas Day.  We've already held our worship ministry party, participated in three carol sings, and "done Christmas" with my side of the family.
Why is it so hard for most...to really embrace this season fully? We give it a wink and a nod, observing a kind of pseudo-Advent even as our Christmas celebrations—ecclesial, civic, and familial—are in full-swing.
Like Debra Dean Murphy, though, I refuse to beat myself up over this. In fact, failure might just be what I need to enter more fully into what the season calls for. She goes on to suggest that despite our giving in to the pressure the culture puts on us to half-heartedly enter into Advent, many Protestants actually desire to be led more fully into all that the season calls for.
Most people in the pews are up for the challenge—the mystery, the drama, the strange satisfactions—of Advent. ...In my experience, lay people are interested in church history and liturgical practice. ...They sense the poverty of worship when so much of it mimics the banal culture around them. They long for beauty. They’re game for change. ...Our jumping the gun on Christmas...is regrettable not so much because it violates a hard and fast rule regarding liturgical propriety but because it robs us of the gift of inhabiting fully a season of deep and necessary paradox—a lack in the life of faith that many church-goers feel keenly.
After talking a bit about the necessary and often overlooked Advent themes of judgment and hope, Debra makes three suggestions for helping us recover (or discover) this season in all its fullness. I was particularly convicted by her third suggestion, which has since helped me to loosen up and take more of a lighthearted approach to leading our church in Advent worship.
1. We can’t talk about Advent only in Advent. Habituating worshipers to the rhythms of the church calendar requires a year-long (years-long) attentiveness, regular reminders that we occupy time differently, ongoing catechesis about the patterns and practices that shape Christian identity. This truth can be taught in a variety of ways (studies, sermons, and all the rest), even as worshipers embody its reality Sunday after Sunday. But it’s not absorbed by osmosis; intentionality is key. 
2. Make changes slowly but resolutely. Decide long before Advent (and invite congregational reflection on) what the shape of the season will be. Maybe you’ll resolve to learn the Advent hymns you never sing; maybe you’ll organize a December study that goes deep into the Advent lections. Hopefully blowout Christmas celebrations will be saved for the twelve-day-long Christmas season. 
3. Maintain a sense of humor. There really is nothing quite so obnoxious as a know-it-all who insists on liturgical correctness at the expense of harmony and goodwill. The journey out of our cultural accommodations in Christian worship is an arduous trek that takes time (see suggestion number two); not being so hard on ourselves can lighten the load and bring others along.

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Why Advent? 1

I've been thinking a lot about why I am so drawn to the season of Advent. Is it because it's so fresh to me, having not observed it for the first twenty-five years of my life? Is it because it's the trendy "Ancient-Future" thing to do? Is it because I'm super mellow, which fits nicely with the mood of the season? Is it even necessary at all?

Instead of taking the time to write a dissertation of my own defending Advent, I'd like to share a couple resources I have recently come across that have helped me identify and articulate why this season is so important to me. I'll do this in two separate blogposts.

The first is a short, very accessible e-book written by Mark D. Roberts, entitled Discovering Advent. In the book he talks about how he wasn't always a lover of Advent, but grew to love it. Just before spending the last half of the book laying our some practical guidelines for observing Advent, he hits on one of the most common responses he (and I) get when we talk about our intentional practice of Advent: "But Is Advent Biblical?"

He begins the chapter by saying,
In fact, you can't turn to a place in the Bible and find specific teaching on Advent or a command to set aside the days prior to Christmas as a season of waiting, hoping, and yearning. Of course, you can't find in Scripture any instruction on celebrating Christmas or Easter either. ...Some Christians believe we should only use in our worship and devotion that which is specifically commanded in Scripture. This eliminates not just Advent, but the other popular Christian holidays as well.
He goes on to say,
I believe that we are free in Christ to do many things that are not specifically taught or modeled in Scripture. ...Yet, I do want to live my life in a way that is consistent with biblical teaching. Is Advent biblical in this broader sense? Could the observance of Advent help you and me grow in faith in a way that aligns with biblical revelation? (my emphases)
This last question, to which I answer with a resounding YES, is why we are leading our church into an intentional observance of Advent, both in our corporate worship and in our homes. Growth in faith and alignment with Christ aren't things that naturally happen in our lives without order and effort. We observe Advent (and the rest of the Christian Year) because it aligns us with the story of Jesus. It provides a framework for us to draw near to God, where we can be transformed. Otherwise, who are we drawing near to? What are we orienting our lives around this season? We can't not be giving ourselves over to something. We are always spending our time and directing our desires toward something or someone.

Mark Roberts then walks us through several passages of Scripture that call us into practices and postures associated with the great themes of Advent: waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah. We do the things we do during Advent, focus on the things we do, because the Scriptures lead us in this way, and because it makes sense to us (and to the early believers who began our Advent practices) to do so during this time of year.
So, though it's correct to say that Advent itself is not taught in Scripture, and therefore Christians are free to observe it or not, it is equally correct to say that the emphases of Advent are thoroughly biblical. If the traditions of Advent help us focus more on the Lord, get in touch with our need for him, replenish our hope, and celebrate Christmas with greater meaning and depth, then I'm all [for] it.
How does intentionally observing Advent help you, your family, your church grow in faith and align with Christ during this time of year? What kind of resistance to Advent do you experience in your own heart or in your conversations with other Christians?

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Merry Christmas. Good Night.

Advent Shalom! Some good friends of ours just compiled an EP of new Christmas songs, including fresh recordings of "Glory in the Heights" by Yours truly and "Repeat the Wondrous Story" by Sean Carter. It's FREE through Noisetrade if you invite five friends. You probably know how it works. Thanks and enjoy!


Here is the link to the EP on Noisetrade in case you can't see the widget above.

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