on Advent

2 Advent

I love Advent. Especially in years like this one when the Season after Pentecost is especially long.

But Advent is not Christmas. The lectionary readings for the first couple of Sundays of Advent can be kind of rough. This is Year A, the year of Matthew. I’ve always thought Matthew was the harshest of the four gospels, and nothing in the readings for the first two Sundays of Advent does anything to alter that opinion. Last week we heard Matthew 24: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Yesterday It was John the Baptist in Matthew 3: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Tough stuff, indeed.

I don’t follow the daily lectionary, but Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Day by Day wrote the December reflections this year and commented:

quote I picked Advent … before I remembered what’s in the daily office lections for the month. Zoinks. It’s not all fun and games. Woe to those who say Advent isn’t penitential!

I spent ten  years in exile from the Episcopal Church off in the Lutheran Church where the color for Advent is Blue, to indicate expectation. The color in the Episcopal Church is still purple. My spiritual director, Linda, an Episcopal parish priest, tells me the color can be seen as royal purple. And I did see on Facebook a picture of an Episcopal clergy person in a beautiful blue vestment.

At St. John the Divine, the approach is more penitential. No altar flowers in Advent (as in Lent), and we sing the Kyrie, which we only sing in those two seasons.

At Good Shepherd Lutheran, Pastor Koch was adamant that we did not sing Christmas songs during Advent. I internalized that, and became a bit of a snob. Linda reminded me once that I am not the Advent police. And indeed, I loosened up a bit last year because in times of stress and frustration Christmas music can be soothing and healing.

Linda spoke to her congregation on Advent 1 about the Advent police. She says, “For some reason, the Advent police seem to take greater pleasure in seeking out infractions than seeking out the Christ Child.” An easy trap to fall in to.

Linda goes on to say:

quote I’ve noticed that there’s not much any of us can do to control Advent and Christmas. Just like babies, Advent and Christmas seem to arrive in their own time, not ours. Despite our tight-gripped control of our calendars, they are not as predictable as we would like to believe. There have been years in my life when neither Advent nor Christmas became a reality for me. There have been years when my Advent extended almost to Easter and other years when I’ve been struck by Christmas in the middle of summer or on a day filled with falling leaves. You may have had similar times when your own experience doesn’t quite coincide with the season or with what seems to be going on with those around you. The thing is—God shows up when God shows up, and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Now there is a liberating thought.

Maybe we need to get away from all those rules about Advent and focus of waiting and expectation. Maybe the lectionary does not have the correct approach in its focus on penitence.

Marcus Borg writes about Advent:

quote Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate. It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness….That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent. Christianity and Advent are about so much more. The central themes of the stories of Jesus’s birth … are hardly at all about sin and our need for forgiveness.

These themes include, Borg says:

  • Liberation from bondage
  • Return from exile
  • Light in the darkness
  • Yearning and fulfillment

He expands on these themes in his initial Advent post, and promises more on them throughout Advent.

Useful reflections as we wait for the coming of the Light.

I leave the final word to my spiritual director Linda:

quote One again, we begin the journey to Christmas. Jesus is coming. There’s no telling what will happen. Sing a little carol! Stay awake!

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