The gentle Autumnal nuances of October and November have sharpened into the crispness of December in East Texas, the “Yuletide” season is upon us and Sunday marked the first week of Advent.
“Advent?” a minister friend of mine responded with scoffing surprise when I mentioned the occasion. “Are you turning Catholic on me?” he chuckled.
Of course, my friend was just needling me a little bit. We’re both rather staunch Baptists, though we still find ways of good-naturedly antagonizing each other about fine points of doctrine.
I do admit a certain predilection for some of the observances that are traditionally linked with the more “liturgical” denominations, so I reckon that makes me a rather poor Evangelical. There are worse fates, I suppose.
Now this is certainly not a hill that I inclined to die upon. For whether or not one chooses to celebrate this or any other “shadow of the things to come” is far less a matter to me than the substance of which one is inclined. I do not desire an empty formalism any more than I would encourage a vain abstinence.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind, and the one who observes the day should observe it in honor of the Lord.
As is the case with many of the peripheral aspects of Christian culture, the formal observance of Advent did not have an “official” beginning but developed gradually over many years.
The word itself has Latin origins, specifically from “adventus” which means “to arrive” and is itself a translation of the Greek word “parousia” and actually refers to the return of Jesus Christ foretold in the Book of Revelation.
Originally, the purpose was largely as a time of penitence in preparation for the return of the Savior, it quickly became integrated into the cyclical religious patterns of birth and death that have been with us since the earliest men carved idols out of wood to bow down before and worship.
While numerous inconsistent references to an Advent-like holiday can be found scattered haphazardly across Europe and Asia Minor during the fourth and fifth centuries, it was Gregory the Great who took these loose festivities and brought them into lock-step with the church schedule and calendar.
Even so, down through the years Advent has continued to expand and propagate into different varieties.
Another guy named Gregory reduced the number of Sundays in Advent to four, then a council decided that Advent signified the beginning of the church year. The Lutherans contributed the Advent wreathes by the late 1500s and then in the 19th came up with the 24-day Advent calendars.
My children love the calendars especially, though I think it has more to do with the pieces of chocolate that are in the box when each day is counted then any deep sense of religious significance. Children are funny that way.
Whenever it started, and whoever started it, doesn’t matter as much to me as what it means and why I choose to partake.
Advent is a tool and, like any tool in the hands of a skilled carpenter, it can be used used to rebuild things that have begun to fall apart. Our souls, our lives, our world.
This time of year, if reduced to its barest and primitive elements, takes on a rather harsh contrast. Under the auspices of “thinking of others” we overindulge in some of our baser instincts to consume and spend as much as we can in the pursuit of no loftier goal than spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need for people we don’t like. To eat, to drink, to be merry… is that all there is?
For me this season cannot be appreciated or even understood if not experienced through the large spectrum of the Christian faith. Surely our entire lives should be an act of worship, so too should our seasons be made to be thus.
My thoughts soon turn towards a child born in lowly estate, yet to Whom even the knees of kings shall bow. Of the meek Lamb that came and was slain, but that shall return as a roaring Lion: He that conquers hate with a Love supreme, a peace transcendent.
O come, thou “Day-spring” come and cheer our spirits by thine Advent here. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and Death’s dark shadows put to flight.