Have an unmerry Advent!

Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter. That is, Advent and Lent are both penitential seasons–times to look at our lives under the Law, sober times of repentance and discipline that serve as preparation for the glorious celebrations of the Gospel that are the festivals of the Incarnation and the Resurrection of our Lord.

As our pastor put it in his sermon yesterday, this is out of synch with everyone else:

While the world is jumping into Christmas with both feet, the church says “wait.” While the world cries “joy!” the church cries “repent!” And while the world feasts, the church fasts.

But there is, indeed, Advent joy. Click the link for what that entails.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • womanofthehouse

    This is my first December as a Lutheran, and I’m finding it really difficult to think in terms of Advent being a penitential season. I’ve spent the past 45 years jumping into December in “joyful celebration” mode. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of Advent.

  • womanofthehouse

    This is my first December as a Lutheran, and I’m finding it really difficult to think in terms of Advent being a penitential season. I’ve spent the past 45 years jumping into December in “joyful celebration” mode. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of Advent.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I have trouble view advent as a penitential season. There is an aspect of reflecting on our lives under the law but that is only a part of the season. Rather, I see Advent as a season of anticipation. It incorporates both our lives under the law and our release in grace. We hear the call of the prophets calling us to repentance and pointing us to Christ, both in his first advent and in the joyous realization of all prophecy in his return in glory.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    I have trouble view advent as a penitential season. There is an aspect of reflecting on our lives under the law but that is only a part of the season. Rather, I see Advent as a season of anticipation. It incorporates both our lives under the law and our release in grace. We hear the call of the prophets calling us to repentance and pointing us to Christ, both in his first advent and in the joyous realization of all prophecy in his return in glory.

  • EGK

    Don’t forget that the third Sunday is specifically associated with joy (hence the pink candle). The traditional Epistle for the day was the Philippians exhortation, “Rejoice!” Nor to mention the first Sunday traditionally repeats the Palm Sunday Gospel, “Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion! Your King comes”! We sing, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!” So, yes it is expectant, it is preparatory, but most certainly not devoid of joy.

  • EGK

    Don’t forget that the third Sunday is specifically associated with joy (hence the pink candle). The traditional Epistle for the day was the Philippians exhortation, “Rejoice!” Nor to mention the first Sunday traditionally repeats the Palm Sunday Gospel, “Rejoice, O Daughter of Zion! Your King comes”! We sing, “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!” So, yes it is expectant, it is preparatory, but most certainly not devoid of joy.

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    Dear “Womanofthehouse”-
    What a treat you have in store for you as you celebrate–and I DO mean CELEBRATE–your first Advent season as a Lutheran (although you could just as well have celebrated it as a Baptist or an Episcopalian or whatever.)
    Seriously, this gives you the opportunity to really prepare yourself AND your environment for the coming of the Christ Child. Let me give you some suggestions:
    First, do use an Advent Wreath. There are loads of great resources on-line; here is only one: http://www.textweek.com/advent.htm
    Encourage its use by your whole family–especially children if they are in your home. We have used an Advent Wreath for more than 30 years and do so now even with our children grown up and on their own–and they use their own in their homes now.
    Second, don’t decorate your home all at once in the next week. Instead, add to the “Christmas” decorations over time. This will encourage that air of expectation that Dr. Luther above refers to. We put up wreaths outside and candles in our windows for the first couple of weeks. Save the tree till the last minute you can.
    Third, use an Advent resource for your own personal devotions. There are likewise loads on-line. Somehow intentionally meditating on Advent and the prophecies of the coming nativity really make the season vibrant.
    Finally, participate enthusiastically in the Advent Sunday worship services at your church. Being a Lutheran means you will be read to from a variety of OT books predicting the Birth of the Savior and the coming of John the Baptist, His harold. Communion during this period can be especially meaningful. And spend time considering all this with family and good friends. Yes, you are making a sea change in your approach to Christmas. It can be a WONDERFUL experience.
    Let us know how you fare!
    Have a Blessed Advent!

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    Dear “Womanofthehouse”-
    What a treat you have in store for you as you celebrate–and I DO mean CELEBRATE–your first Advent season as a Lutheran (although you could just as well have celebrated it as a Baptist or an Episcopalian or whatever.)
    Seriously, this gives you the opportunity to really prepare yourself AND your environment for the coming of the Christ Child. Let me give you some suggestions:
    First, do use an Advent Wreath. There are loads of great resources on-line; here is only one: http://www.textweek.com/advent.htm
    Encourage its use by your whole family–especially children if they are in your home. We have used an Advent Wreath for more than 30 years and do so now even with our children grown up and on their own–and they use their own in their homes now.
    Second, don’t decorate your home all at once in the next week. Instead, add to the “Christmas” decorations over time. This will encourage that air of expectation that Dr. Luther above refers to. We put up wreaths outside and candles in our windows for the first couple of weeks. Save the tree till the last minute you can.
    Third, use an Advent resource for your own personal devotions. There are likewise loads on-line. Somehow intentionally meditating on Advent and the prophecies of the coming nativity really make the season vibrant.
    Finally, participate enthusiastically in the Advent Sunday worship services at your church. Being a Lutheran means you will be read to from a variety of OT books predicting the Birth of the Savior and the coming of John the Baptist, His harold. Communion during this period can be especially meaningful. And spend time considering all this with family and good friends. Yes, you are making a sea change in your approach to Christmas. It can be a WONDERFUL experience.
    Let us know how you fare!
    Have a Blessed Advent!

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    I forgot to mention that yesterday was “Stir-up Sunday,” the first Sunday with its pray to “stir up our hearts” toward the coming King!

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    I forgot to mention that yesterday was “Stir-up Sunday,” the first Sunday with its pray to “stir up our hearts” toward the coming King!

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Can you explain more of the scriptural basis for such a thing as a yearly ritual of penitence?

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Can you explain more of the scriptural basis for such a thing as a yearly ritual of penitence?

  • Booklover

    Joel, you certainly don’t look like a penitential kind of guy anyway! :-) Great pic.

  • Booklover

    Joel, you certainly don’t look like a penitential kind of guy anyway! :-) Great pic.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The truth is that Christmas has become a largely a pagan season, with an orgy of consumerism, drink, and gluttony. The early Puritans were probably right that we have no scriptural basis to celebrate Christmas. They were, also, aware that Christmas was a Catholic tradition of the Catholic Christ’s Mass and that the time of the year corresponded with the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, when the days started to get longer.

    Advent, taken properly, is a time, like Lent, of penitence, best followed by a quiet celebration of Christ’s coming, though I’d have to sat that I enjoy Christmas carols and lights, family events, and the exchange of gifts, however much pagan.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The truth is that Christmas has become a largely a pagan season, with an orgy of consumerism, drink, and gluttony. The early Puritans were probably right that we have no scriptural basis to celebrate Christmas. They were, also, aware that Christmas was a Catholic tradition of the Catholic Christ’s Mass and that the time of the year corresponded with the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, when the days started to get longer.

    Advent, taken properly, is a time, like Lent, of penitence, best followed by a quiet celebration of Christ’s coming, though I’d have to sat that I enjoy Christmas carols and lights, family events, and the exchange of gifts, however much pagan.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    “Advent, taken properly, is a time, like Lent, of penitence, best followed by a quiet celebration of Christ’s coming…”

    Again, where in scripture is this image of a “proper” Advent coming from? Or is it simply a tradition? Or just a reaction against the world’s treatment of the holiday?

    I’m aware that there’s no biblical mandate or positive injunction to celebrate Christ’s birth — though reading the story and the example of the heavenly host, one might be forgiven for supposing the birth of the Messiah was something to be celebrated. But it seems to me there’s even less mandate to “anti-celebrate” Christ’s birth through a yearly ritual of self-imposed penitence.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    “Advent, taken properly, is a time, like Lent, of penitence, best followed by a quiet celebration of Christ’s coming…”

    Again, where in scripture is this image of a “proper” Advent coming from? Or is it simply a tradition? Or just a reaction against the world’s treatment of the holiday?

    I’m aware that there’s no biblical mandate or positive injunction to celebrate Christ’s birth — though reading the story and the example of the heavenly host, one might be forgiven for supposing the birth of the Messiah was something to be celebrated. But it seems to me there’s even less mandate to “anti-celebrate” Christ’s birth through a yearly ritual of self-imposed penitence.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joel, the liturgical calendar — which yearly celebrates the life of Christ, including the season of Advent — is, indeed, a tradition and not, as such, from the Bible. You are free to ignore it. You are also, similarly, free to ignore a yearly celebration of Christ’s resurrection if you want. My question would be: why? Clearly, the Christian church has seen much benefit in such a tradition, going quite a ways back. Before you throw it out, you might want to see what benefits such observances offer.

    I also wonder what you have against penitence. Seems like a pretty good thing for Christians to have — indeed, Luther reminded us that every day for a Christian is to be characterized by daily repentance (and you’d be hard pressed to prove that’s not a biblical attitude). Choosing certain times of the year to focus on this would certainly be in keeping with that.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Joel, the liturgical calendar — which yearly celebrates the life of Christ, including the season of Advent — is, indeed, a tradition and not, as such, from the Bible. You are free to ignore it. You are also, similarly, free to ignore a yearly celebration of Christ’s resurrection if you want. My question would be: why? Clearly, the Christian church has seen much benefit in such a tradition, going quite a ways back. Before you throw it out, you might want to see what benefits such observances offer.

    I also wonder what you have against penitence. Seems like a pretty good thing for Christians to have — indeed, Luther reminded us that every day for a Christian is to be characterized by daily repentance (and you’d be hard pressed to prove that’s not a biblical attitude). Choosing certain times of the year to focus on this would certainly be in keeping with that.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, good to see you arguing from the stance of tradition.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Todd, good to see you arguing from the stance of tradition.

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    I’m back and a staunch supporter of the tradition of CELEBRATING Advent. I don’t doubt the importance of considering Advent as a penitential season. But the term itself is ADVENT, a term of expectation. As such, we are expected to prepare for the coming of the Christ and if that means confessing our sins, so be it. But it is more joyful than Lent because we KNOW that the One is coming because we can read the prophetic writings about his coming. Lent is properly penitential because we know the burden of sins Our Lord took on himself for us; Advent is properly expectant as a woman has expectant or advental emotions about her coming baby.
    Let us rejoice in the promise of the birth in Bethlehem. Remember, if we had no Christmas/Incarnation, we would have no Easter/Resurrection!

    I also want to point out that Christmas celebrations are properly consigned to the Christmas Season, the Twelve Days of Christmastide. (Remember “Twelfth Night?”)

  • http://drjco@umich.edu drjoan

    I’m back and a staunch supporter of the tradition of CELEBRATING Advent. I don’t doubt the importance of considering Advent as a penitential season. But the term itself is ADVENT, a term of expectation. As such, we are expected to prepare for the coming of the Christ and if that means confessing our sins, so be it. But it is more joyful than Lent because we KNOW that the One is coming because we can read the prophetic writings about his coming. Lent is properly penitential because we know the burden of sins Our Lord took on himself for us; Advent is properly expectant as a woman has expectant or advental emotions about her coming baby.
    Let us rejoice in the promise of the birth in Bethlehem. Remember, if we had no Christmas/Incarnation, we would have no Easter/Resurrection!

    I also want to point out that Christmas celebrations are properly consigned to the Christmas Season, the Twelve Days of Christmastide. (Remember “Twelfth Night?”)

  • Peter Leavitt

    Jody Bottum over at First Things Online in an article The End of Advent about secular Christmas devouring Advent, including:

    What Advent is, really, is a discipline: a way of forming anticipation and channeling it toward its goal. There’s a flicker of rose on the third Sunday—Gaudete!, that day’s Mass begins: Rejoice!—but then it’s back to the dark purple that is the mark of the season in liturgical churches. And what those somber vestments symbolize is the deeply penitential design of Advent. Nothing we can do earns us the gift of Christmas, any more than Lent earns us Easter. But a season of contrition and sacrifice prepares us to understand and feel something about just how great the gift is when at last the day itself arrives.

    The dark precedes the dawn.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Jody Bottum over at First Things Online in an article The End of Advent about secular Christmas devouring Advent, including:

    What Advent is, really, is a discipline: a way of forming anticipation and channeling it toward its goal. There’s a flicker of rose on the third Sunday—Gaudete!, that day’s Mass begins: Rejoice!—but then it’s back to the dark purple that is the mark of the season in liturgical churches. And what those somber vestments symbolize is the deeply penitential design of Advent. Nothing we can do earns us the gift of Christmas, any more than Lent earns us Easter. But a season of contrition and sacrifice prepares us to understand and feel something about just how great the gift is when at last the day itself arrives.

    The dark precedes the dawn.

  • Rob Cartusciello

    Yesterday my wife charged me with being a bit of a Grinch for having a more anticipatory (& even monastic) attitude regarding Advent. I prefer to meditate on what is to come, and celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas starting at Midnight Mass.

    In my defense, I started the Christmas baking a week before Thanksgiving. Several tins of rum balls are curing in the pantry. Jars of assorted dried fruits were also mixed with sherry and rum and laid aside for Christmas Cake. Plum Pudding fruit was also soaked before Thanksgiving and steamed on “Stir up” Sunday.

  • Rob Cartusciello

    Yesterday my wife charged me with being a bit of a Grinch for having a more anticipatory (& even monastic) attitude regarding Advent. I prefer to meditate on what is to come, and celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas starting at Midnight Mass.

    In my defense, I started the Christmas baking a week before Thanksgiving. Several tins of rum balls are curing in the pantry. Jars of assorted dried fruits were also mixed with sherry and rum and laid aside for Christmas Cake. Plum Pudding fruit was also soaked before Thanksgiving and steamed on “Stir up” Sunday.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel D

    tODD, I’m not against Christmas/Advent, nor am I “against penitence”. I celebrate Christmas with the best of them, and I certainly see the value in contemplating the state of man before the coming of the Christ, and in consciously choosing to “anticipate” the birth of Christ in order to celebrate it more fully. What I’m hearing is that the degree to which one does this is a strictly aesthetic and personal preference. I’m fine with that.

    About penitence: I’m not “against” it. I am a new creation in Christ, alive to His desires. When the Spirit is grieved, I am grieved, and repent in tears. This is the nature of the new creation. But I have problems with prescribed seasons of penitence, not tied to any action or any conviction of the Spirit but simply out of tradition. Being sorry or contrite for something that I’m free from, that God has taken away and that no longer characterises me as a regenerate, new man, seems like clipping the wings God has placed on me and would rather I wear and use. To do so yearly out of self-imposed (as opposed to scripture-imposed) piety seems to compound the error.

    I value traditions, but I also see Luther as a personal spiritual father (in the sense that I identify with his journey very much and view him as a role model) and I seriously doubt whether he would give a pfennig for a tradition that didn’t have a clear basis in the message of Scripture. I can see where the celebration of Advent does; I can’t see where a yearly ritual of penitence does.

    (Maybe I’m getting hung up on the actual meaning of the word “penitence”? Maybe you all just mean humility and reflection?)

  • http://jdueck.net Joel D

    tODD, I’m not against Christmas/Advent, nor am I “against penitence”. I celebrate Christmas with the best of them, and I certainly see the value in contemplating the state of man before the coming of the Christ, and in consciously choosing to “anticipate” the birth of Christ in order to celebrate it more fully. What I’m hearing is that the degree to which one does this is a strictly aesthetic and personal preference. I’m fine with that.

    About penitence: I’m not “against” it. I am a new creation in Christ, alive to His desires. When the Spirit is grieved, I am grieved, and repent in tears. This is the nature of the new creation. But I have problems with prescribed seasons of penitence, not tied to any action or any conviction of the Spirit but simply out of tradition. Being sorry or contrite for something that I’m free from, that God has taken away and that no longer characterises me as a regenerate, new man, seems like clipping the wings God has placed on me and would rather I wear and use. To do so yearly out of self-imposed (as opposed to scripture-imposed) piety seems to compound the error.

    I value traditions, but I also see Luther as a personal spiritual father (in the sense that I identify with his journey very much and view him as a role model) and I seriously doubt whether he would give a pfennig for a tradition that didn’t have a clear basis in the message of Scripture. I can see where the celebration of Advent does; I can’t see where a yearly ritual of penitence does.

    (Maybe I’m getting hung up on the actual meaning of the word “penitence”? Maybe you all just mean humility and reflection?)

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    I didn’t make it up, calling Advent a penitential season! And of course it is something to “celebrate.” Everybody, click to the link to our pastor’s sermon, in which he explains the JOY of Advent and even the JOY of repentance in light of God’s Promises.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    I didn’t make it up, calling Advent a penitential season! And of course it is something to “celebrate.” Everybody, click to the link to our pastor’s sermon, in which he explains the JOY of Advent and even the JOY of repentance in light of God’s Promises.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Gregory DeVore

    Penitance is simply repentance. We have biblical warant to always repent. Look at the first of Luther’s thesis in the 95 thesis. Since are whole life should be repentance it is certainly appropriate to carve out times of the year where the Church gives attention to God’s call to repent. Since God’s grace is best appreciated by a contrite heart it is fitting that prior to the Church’s great celebrations of grace we give attention to God’s call to repentance. That does not mean we are not allways to repent and allways rejoice in Grace. It means that we focus our attention in worship on different things at different times.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Gregory DeVore

    Penitance is simply repentance. We have biblical warant to always repent. Look at the first of Luther’s thesis in the 95 thesis. Since are whole life should be repentance it is certainly appropriate to carve out times of the year where the Church gives attention to God’s call to repent. Since God’s grace is best appreciated by a contrite heart it is fitting that prior to the Church’s great celebrations of grace we give attention to God’s call to repentance. That does not mean we are not allways to repent and allways rejoice in Grace. It means that we focus our attention in worship on different things at different times.

  • Brenda Bomberger

    The “stir up’ texts were also used as a reminder for English housewives to remember to get going with the fruit cakes all ready. One way to increase the anticpatory nature of Advent.
    We began to observe Advent when our little ones were about 7 and under. The wreath was a big hit and helped delay to frenzy that came on after Thanksgiving.

  • Brenda Bomberger

    The “stir up’ texts were also used as a reminder for English housewives to remember to get going with the fruit cakes all ready. One way to increase the anticpatory nature of Advent.
    We began to observe Advent when our little ones were about 7 and under. The wreath was a big hit and helped delay to frenzy that came on after Thanksgiving.

  • Elizabeth F

    Perhaps it was what I needed to hear (read), but I greatly appreciated the sermon, and received it with great joy. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement going on around me, but keeping my focus on Christ is what is important. I look at Advent as a time not only of penitence but of reflection on God’s great love for me – a sinner. The Father sent His only Son to earth as a helpless child, that would grow into a man and be subjected to my punishment – death. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate gathering with friends and family before Christmas day, because I do. But I do think the season of Advent is an important part of my celebration of Christmas.

  • Elizabeth F

    Perhaps it was what I needed to hear (read), but I greatly appreciated the sermon, and received it with great joy. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement going on around me, but keeping my focus on Christ is what is important. I look at Advent as a time not only of penitence but of reflection on God’s great love for me – a sinner. The Father sent His only Son to earth as a helpless child, that would grow into a man and be subjected to my punishment – death. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate gathering with friends and family before Christmas day, because I do. But I do think the season of Advent is an important part of my celebration of Christmas.

  • Boaz

    Joel: The liturgical calendar can be completely ignored if you don’t find it edifying.

    But you have a problem when you say this: “I have problems with prescribed seasons of penitence, not tied to any action or any conviction of the Spirit but simply out of tradition.”

    But Advent is tied to the Spirit’s Action and conviction! How does the Spirit act and convict? By the Word, and by the Sacrament. Advent is merely taking 4 weeks to focus and meditate on one part of the Word: our need of a Savior. Ignore the tradition, and just consider the idea of taking 4 weeks to think about the coming of Christ into the world for us.

    How the OT prophesies his coming, but few understood his meaning. How Christ the King enters the world with shepherds as heralds. How John the Baptist prepares the way. etc. Focusing on repentence and our need for a Savior heightens the joy when our Savior does come at Christmas, and separates our minds from the materialism of secular Christmas.

    More here:

    http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/plessjlearningtopreach.pdf

  • Boaz

    Joel: The liturgical calendar can be completely ignored if you don’t find it edifying.

    But you have a problem when you say this: “I have problems with prescribed seasons of penitence, not tied to any action or any conviction of the Spirit but simply out of tradition.”

    But Advent is tied to the Spirit’s Action and conviction! How does the Spirit act and convict? By the Word, and by the Sacrament. Advent is merely taking 4 weeks to focus and meditate on one part of the Word: our need of a Savior. Ignore the tradition, and just consider the idea of taking 4 weeks to think about the coming of Christ into the world for us.

    How the OT prophesies his coming, but few understood his meaning. How Christ the King enters the world with shepherds as heralds. How John the Baptist prepares the way. etc. Focusing on repentence and our need for a Savior heightens the joy when our Savior does come at Christmas, and separates our minds from the materialism of secular Christmas.

    More here:

    http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/plessjlearningtopreach.pdf

  • jim_claybourn

    Boaz,

    Thanks for the link to the Pless article.

    It was a great read, I especially like this :

    “The gnostic forces of our age threaten the church nowhere as much as they do in December as the clear preaching of repentance in Advent is often muted by the sentimentalism encouraged by the hungry consumerism of our culture . . .”

  • jim_claybourn

    Boaz,

    Thanks for the link to the Pless article.

    It was a great read, I especially like this :

    “The gnostic forces of our age threaten the church nowhere as much as they do in December as the clear preaching of repentance in Advent is often muted by the sentimentalism encouraged by the hungry consumerism of our culture . . .”

  • jim_claybourn

    womanofthehouse said:
    This is my first December as a Lutheran, and I’m finding it really difficult to think in terms of Advent being a penitential season. I’ve spent the past 45 years jumping into December in “joyful celebration” mode. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of Advent.

    I think you are confusing the Christian use of the word “joy” with its worldly meaning, that of an emotion, or feeling of “happiness”.

    The linked sermon and Luther preaching article help to point out the differences.

  • jim_claybourn

    womanofthehouse said:
    This is my first December as a Lutheran, and I’m finding it really difficult to think in terms of Advent being a penitential season. I’ve spent the past 45 years jumping into December in “joyful celebration” mode. I’m not sure I’ll ever get the hang of Advent.

    I think you are confusing the Christian use of the word “joy” with its worldly meaning, that of an emotion, or feeling of “happiness”.

    The linked sermon and Luther preaching article help to point out the differences.


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