When you have a lot of friends who’ve been to seminary, you see and hear a lot of churchy, religious stuff the average joe doesn’t. Discussions about theological systems, obscure religious teachers and atonement theories are everyday fare. If your seminarian friends are particularly nerdy, like mine, you get to hear about Beer and Hymns events and all things liturgical. As a part of the liturgical calendar, Advent falls into that last category. And, I don’t really care for it.
To be perfectly honest, liturgy in general leaves me cold. Mostly because I grew up reciting creeds and prayers and singing hymns that were, at best, performed with a “this-is-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” attitude. There are other issues, but that’s a story for another day. I don’t like Advent because it’s about patience and waiting and self-denial. Basically, Advent is Lent without the promise of good weather at the end. In other words, if you do Advent correctly, there’s no reward for all the hard stuff.
Think about that last statement for a minute. With Lent, you give up something meaningful (like coffee or soda or your favorite food) and, when it’s over, you get to resume whatever indulgence you forbore; plus, it’s Spring when the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining. Not so with the drudgery that is Advent. No, if we are to properly observe this season, we’re supposed to spend it in “expectant waiting”, not shopping and partying and singing Christmas songs. And, what do we get at the end? Who knows? Every blog I read, every sermon I hear, every theology nerd I know that sings the praises of Advent, not a one of them says a word about anything concrete I’ll get for all that “expectant waiting”.
Oh sure, we get to celebrate the birth of Christ with some church services and maybe a dinner or two. Are you seriously telling me that, for spending a month of Sundays going to church and listening to sermons building up Christmas, I get to celebrate by…, going to church again? Look, I am a man of my times, which means I crave instant gratification. Add to that a rockin’ case of ADHD and you can see why I might need a little more if I’m going to wait on something.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I like the way we’re doing things now. My friend, Daniel Miles, wrote a nice piece about all this today. In I Hate Christmas, But I Love Advent, he talks about the stress resulting from all the shopping, partying and
insipid incessant Christmas music one encounters between Thanksgiving and C-day and his critique is right on the money. He also talks about how hard it is to do Advent properly. My thought is that it might be a little easier if there was something neat waiting at the end. Sure, a little good weather and getting to drink coffee or sodas or whatever else you might have given up isn’t much of a pay-off, but it’s more than we get with Advent. I’m supposed to give up self-indulgent materialism and the reward is “Peace on earth” and “goodwill toward man”? Frankly, I’d rather have more food than I can eat in several sittings and a ton of crap I don’t need. Somehow, though, I don’t think it works that way.