Conversation in another part of the blogosphere has been about the need to restore the idea of Advent as a penitential season. Learned histories of Advent combined with erudite parsing of the meaning of penitential concluded with a call to restore Advent preaching to a bolder engagement with sin, repentance, death, heaven and hell. Of course that engagement would be tempered with the joyful hope that is ours in Christ Jesus so that on That Day “we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.” As far as conversation among theologians goes, I thought it scored some very worthy points. The problem, it seemed to me, is that ordinary Christians sitting in the pews would understand little of that.
To, in any sense, restore Advent as a penitential season, we cannot start where the 19th century church left off. We have to start where the people are. I suspect that if you asked a cross section of pew sitters to define what a penitential season might mean, they would come up with a season of dark, glum, foreboding, joyless people sitting around in self-flagellation over their sinfulness. I could be wrong, but as guesses go I’ll bet I’m not too far away.
So the question becomes, how do we take that in a different direction so that we can understand penitence in the sense of an honest self-reflection calling us to joy filled repentance as ones forgiven by God who has given us new life and strengthened our renewed intention to grow in discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ? That would make Advent a season of joyful solemnity, or maybe solemn joyfulness, which may sound like a tension filled oxymoron, but then that is exactly what Advent is.
2 thoughts on “The Incongruity of Advent”
This would be a difficult path.The parish I am currently attending has a rector who is an interesting character, very Roman of an era past, in love with ways of old.Advent for him, so far, and for the people in the pews as a result, has already had a focus on the \”wounds\” that Jesus is coming to bear for our sins. I feel like it is a lent prequel. So how do we focus on preparation for the miraculous event of the birth of the Christ as a joyful event? especially when so much of christianity bases it\’s reason for belief on the crucifixion and resurrection rather than the life and teaching of Jesus? I am not sure it is possible. When one enters many churches especially some of the more extreme anglo catholic ones, there is a bloody Jesus on the cross, the stations of the cross surround the nave, some even have images of the saints martyrdom.
I have never understood the theological value of focusing on the suffering of Jesus to the exclusion of all else, although I have a crucifix on the wall next to my desk, my former parish had stations of the cross, and I often wore a crucifix as a pectoral cross. I think they have powerful symbolic meaning during Lent, and are a reminder the rest of the year that Jesus is not our best friend teddy bear. But they are also reminders that the cross is part of a single even that culminates in the Resurrection and through it, the defeat of death. Haven said that, it seems to me that Advent is anything but a little Lent. For one thing, it is a post Resurrection season, so it is a time for preparation for celebration of the incarnate beginning of our salvation. That God would do this thing in this way is awesome and scandalous, and deserving of celebration with great humility mixed with honest self-reflection about how unworthy we are to receive such a gift. Joy mixed with tears. On the other hand, who can compete with Rudolph, The Polar Express and Crown Royal? It\’s a weird time of year for Christians. It\’s so filled with tensions and opposing forces, all in the name of joyful celebration.