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 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 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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