In preparation for Advent

In preparation for Advent November 24, 2011

Advent begins this Sunday, Nov 27th. I’ve never celebrated Advent, so this is a first for me. A few weeks back I asked for help in finding family devotions for the Advent season. I had a good number of helpful suggestions; thanks to all who chimed in.

I have just completed reading Robert Webber’s chapter on Advent in his book Ancient-Future Time and here’s what I learned about the month long celebration.

  • Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.
  • The Messiah’s coming is understood in three different senses: (1) His coming to earth in Bethlehem, (3) His second-coming at the consummation of God’s purposes and (3) His coming in the present moment into my life.
  • The coming of Messiah to me in this moment is predicated on repentance.
  • Repentance is not something I can take, but it must be given me by God.
  • Isaiah is the prophet of Advent because in his life and prophetic word he represented the hope of Advent.
  • John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus mother, reveal Advent spirituality: the former by his single-minded mission and self-giving love, the latter by her willingness to yield her life to God’s will.
  • The first candle of Advent is called “promise”.

Here’s how Webber summarizes the emphasis and challenge of Advent:

Emphasis. Readiness for the coming of Christ at the end of history and at Bethlehem (the four Sundays before Christmas day).

Spiritual Challenge. Repent and be ready for the second coming of Christ. Allow all eager longing for the coming of Messiah to be birthed in your heart.

The Prayer for the first Advent Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer:

Almighty God, give all of us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with the and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Thomson

    You don’t see a judaizing element in this kind of observation Joel?

  • Paul W

    I’m curious as to what in the heck a ‘Judaizing element’ is.

    The church I attend, which celebrates the coming of Christ during this time of year, has a good relationship with the local synagogue and Rabbi but we hardly share much in common as far as liturgical practices are concerned. I have, however, seen that some churches will conduct a type of Christianized Seder during Holy Week. To me, that practice seem strange but I would see that as more of a Christianizing of a Jewish practice than a Judaizing of a Christian practice.

    Advent seems to simply be one of the many ways that Christians have sought to redeem the time. Structuring the year around the life of Jesus Christ, from his birth to his ascension and pouring out of the Holy Spirit seems to me to be a relatively straightforward and simple way to approach it. While the world is immersed in preparations for a secular celebration of Christmas, we can belong to a community of people who take this as a time to attend to spiritual disciplines and Christian practices for the purposes of being attentive to what God has done, is doing, and will do in Jesus.

    Advent is a season, like other seasons, which reminds us that our lives are defined by Jesus and find their true meaning and significance in him. It aims, in part, to provide a structured opportunity to be gratefull, give thanks, and to celebrate the mighty acts of God in the person of Jesus Christ. This is done largely through the thematic organization of reading the word of God, prayers and other simple liturgical actions.

    As a side note, the lighting of candles is so very common (especially in home celebrations) for Advent but the specifics of its symbolism is quite varied. The general association with the biblical theme of light and darkness in connection to Jesus is what strikes me the most. The world in so many ways is surrounded by darkness. Advent calls this to mind and reminds us that this darkness has been pierced with promises about the Light of life and how Jesus is the light that no darkness can overcome. Perhaps more than any other association I have with Advent is that it is a time that the Church has carved out for me to prepare. To prepare for rejoicing in the full glow of God taking on human flesh in order that his light may shine into the darkness.

  • Larry S

    Thanks for this reminder and contemplation. Perfect antidote for Black Friday!

  • My sister-in-law, Jan L. Richardson, has a blog called The Advent Door (http://www.adventdoor.com). She has just released a new book, in Kindle format, called Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas.

  • John Thomson

    Paul W

    I tend to think of all observing of days/months/seasons/festivals as a form of judaizing (Col 2). I see them as a return to a kind of spiritual infancy where realities of ‘faith’ in the new covenant of maturity are objectified and ritualised. They turn a fundamentally ‘religionless’ Christianity into a religion.

  • Geoffrey Arnold

    John Thomson,

    I think it is dangerous to consider “all observing of days/months/seasons/festivals as a form of judaizing.” If you are referring to Col 2:8, how do you see celebrating the advent of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, Emmanuel, as being “captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ?” Celebrating or observing the liturgical calendar is not done in hopes that it will make one more acceptable to God or truly adopted by the Spirit (like circumcision).

    “Days/months/seasons/festivals” are a form of identity for a historical people. Jesus did not shun this identity (seeing as he wished to celebrate the passover, and I’m sure you wouldn’t consider him in “spiritual infancy”), but opposed those who would use this aspect of celebration and identity to exclude others by misconstruing the law (i.e., Pharisees). In fact, I would argue that ignoring or rejecting days/months/seasons/festivals is an expression of a docetic lifestyle that attempts to reject its own history. Certainly do not place Jesus to the side in order to find your identity in something else. But this does not require a rejection of historical identity as such, for the nations will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem.

    I believe that celebration or ‘play’/imagination is necessary to the Christian life in order to experience the kingdom in the present. Furthermore, doing so allows the past to continue its existence into the present. As such, days, months, seasons and festivals are designed opportunities to celebrate past events and work in imaginative anticipation of the future so that the eschatological kingdom might be tasted proleptically in the ‘here’ and ‘now’. Inasmuch as this occurs, one also sees a redemption of the ‘here’ (space) and ‘now’ (time). It is a part of celebrating with those who celebrate and mourning with those who mourn. Such days, months, seasons and festivals allow a people to remember and share their identity with those who have passed and with those who are young and coming.

  • John Thomson

    Hi Geoffrey

    You’ll struggle to find any support for days/festivals etc in the NT. And the verse you cite clearly opposes them. Moreover, it is not simply opposing OT examples, it is opposing them per se. It sees this way of religious observance as ‘weak and beggarly’. Paul advocates a faith that focuses on Christ in heaven as the source of all nourishment and growth.

    I would indeed view the passover as now belonging to spiritual infancy. A resurrected Christ would never observe it (or any other Jewish feast) again. He ceased to be under Law in any shape or form. In life he subjected himself to this infancy as he brought about its fulfilment in himself and introduced new creation. Thus he becomes the fulfilment of the temple/sacrifices/feasts etc. Just as it is wrong to to imagine a millennial kingdom with reinstituted temples/sacrifices etc as commemorations of the gospel so too it has been tragically misguided for the institutionalised church to return from the substance to the shadow.

    Christ is now in heaven and he is our life. Our life is hidden in Christ in God. Spiritual maturity involves a faith as I say that looks to him there for all that brings about life and godliness. They that worship the Father do not worship in all the externals of ‘religion’ but ‘in spirit and truth’.

    We were left with two extremely simple observances baptism and a meal. It is the judaizing (and paganizing) of the church that has made us awash with religious clutter which far from encouraging Christian freedom and a faith that endures seeing what is invisible, enslaves us to rites and rituals all over again. The spiritual and invisible often becomes led by the sensory and visible rather than vice versa.

    In my view, Colossians and Hebrews, require to be reflected on deeply by the church today.

    IMO aglance at how many ‘judaizing’ elements developed in the history of the church hardly commends them to us.

    Thanks for responding though.

  • Geoffrey Arnold

    John,

    The following verse does not forbid the joyful observance of festivals as such: “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col. 2:16-19). In fact, to forbid someone from celebrating festivals, seasons or days (like Advent), would seem to be the flip side of the same coin to what Paul is denouncing here.

    You said, “We were left with two extremely simple observances baptism and a meal. It is the judaizing (and paganizing) of the church that has made us awash with religious clutter which far from encouraging Christian freedom and a faith that endures seeing what is invisible, enslaves us to rites and rituals all over again. The spiritual and invisible often becomes led by the sensory and visible rather than vice versa.” It seems to me that you think ‘observing’ is by nature enslaving and judaizing (Pharisaical). Just because Pharisees managed to ruin and misconstrue the purpose and meaning of days, festivals and seasons does not mean they are ruined in an of themselves. One can freely choose to observe Advent without an ounce of judaizing spirit. The early Church met weekly to remember the resurrection. Furthermore, practicing the Lord’s Supper is an observance itself of Christ’s Last Supper, which he commanded his followers to repeat. If you wish to make all days, seasons and festivals naturally enslaving shadows, then the same must be said of the Lord’s Supper and Resurrection Day.

    Any observance must be done in freedom with the express focus on Christ and the acts of God therein. Judaizing refers to requiring beliefs or actions more than what Christ required to be a part of his Church. As wrong as this clearly was in the early Church, so is its opposite: forcing someone to cease being Jewish or another identity in order to be Christian. Paul never ceased being Jewish, but lived in the freedom of Christ as a Jewish disciple of Christ.

    Out of curiosity, do you not celebrate Christian ‘days’ like Christmas or Easter? Any observance can be ‘judaized’ as you say, but celebrating itself is not judaizing necessarily. Times like Advent, Easter, and Resurrection and practices like baptism and Lord’s Supper properly have Jesus as their ‘substance’.

  • John Thomson

    Geoffrey

    It seems to me that creating a liturgy of festivals and religious days is precisely what this text forbids – especially one which is institutionalised.

    Paul is forthright in his criticism of Peter when Jewish religious scruples led him to withdraw from table fellowship with gentiles. And while he allowed for weak consciences, nevertheless these consciences were weak and did not reflect the freedom that lay in Christ.

    Observing what Christ has not commanded easily becomes an enslaving ritual, especially once it becomes institutionalised. It soon becomes binding on a conscience especially of a simple believer not so versed in nuances. However, we need only view the RC Church to see how ritual and observance becomes binding on those not so simple in faith too.

    The history of ritual and sensory engagement as an aid for worship and authentic evangelical faith is not a hopeful one, rather the opposite; the shadow all too often occludes the substance. This is hardly surprising since the essence of new creation life is life in the freedom of the Spirit where relationship lies in the realm of the faith in that which is invisible. Touching/tasting/smelling/seeing all belong essentially to religion of the flesh (as Judaism was) and not to the age of maturity, the eschatological age of the Spirit. ‘Fleshly ordinances’ (Hebs 9) have no place in the eschaton; it is not a case of christianizing them, they are inferior. Law in all shapes and forms is finished for eschatological believers, anulled by the cross of Christ; we have died to it and live now that faith has come (for law was not of faith in principle Gals 3) not by sight/touch etc but by eyes of faith that look to Christ in glory and is changed into his likeness. All is radically spiritual in nature. The symbolic is minimalistic.

    Beautiful and majestic buildings with elaborate ritual and sensory based faith belong to the ‘basic elements of the world’. Indeed, so too does that religion that makes a virtue out of sensory deprivation (touch not, taste not). Neither aestheticism nor asceticism are Christian for both are about ‘flesh’ and not that simple faith which ‘holds fast to the head’ and ‘seeks the things which are above’. We have been ‘filled in him’ and grow in grace as we ‘walk in him, rooted and built up in him’.

    As soon as we think we need special buildings, places, rituals, days, aesthetics etc we are adding to Christ. We are resorting to inferior and fleshly ways to draw near to God and know him. We experience and know God fully in Christ.