Advent Week 1: Who Needs Advent?

starbucksIt’s that time of year again, time for all the Starbucks-haters to come flying out of the woodwork.

Starbucks came out with its holiday cups earlier this month:  a line-drawing montage of all different kinds of people on a green background.  Except that it was about a month early for the holiday cups, and the green background is not typical of Starbucks’ holiday cups.

Didn’t matter.  Conservatives and evangelicals took to Twitter to express their outrage–Starbucks was desecrating the Christmas season and using it to advance their fascist neo-liberal communist agenda.  Yawn.  Some people have WAY too much time on their hands.

But for now we will leave behind all the antics of the Starbucks-haters and others trying to push the so-called War on Christmas to the forefront of the public consciousness.  For now, and for the next four weeks, we will enter into a completely different universe.

Advent is the four weeks before Christmas.  More precisely, it is three full weeks plus whatever fraction of a week is needed to get us to Christmas.  If Christmas falls on a Sunday then Advent is four full weeks.

Advent is a season of darkness.  Not the special darkness of Lent, which results from the shadow of the Cross falling squarely across our path, but a more general, pervasive darkness, the darkness of a world in waiting for the coming of its long-promised Savior and Redeemer.  During this season, liturgical churches change the color and the decor and do some things differently.

So who needs Advent?  Why make such a big deal about it every year?  Why even talk about it?

Answer:  We all do.

Advent is not a Catholic thing or an Orthodox thing.  It is not for those godless liberal mainlines or those postmodern liturgy freaks or those overly highbrow, high-church types.

No, Advent is for all of us.  Advent is part of that broader, deeper, more ancient stream of Christian belief and practice which connects us with the countless generations of believers who have gone before us and served God faithfully long before we ever came on the scene.  Observing Advent does not tie us to the errors or unseemly aspects of other church traditions.  If we choose to ignore Advent, we do ourselves a huge disservice.

Advent is our time to be countercultural.  All around us the world is working itself into a frenzy of shopping, parties, decorations, gifts, travel, and all the other demands of the holiday season.  It all started on Black Friday and it will only grow even more insane as the weeks progress toward Christmas.  But this is our time to step back and say to the world, “Thanks but you can have all of that.  Our hope is in Christ whom we remember and expectantly await during this season.  We don’t need to chase after all the things you drive yourselves crazy chasing after.”  We do this by engaging in contemplation, spiritual practice, and simple works of love for our neighbors.

So who needs Advent?  Answer:  We all do.

Advent is not a time to say to the watching world, “You need a savior”, as if we already have a Savior and therefore do not need one.  Instead it is a time for us to say “We all need a Savior.”

That is the underlying theme of Advent:  We all need a Savior.

Advent is our time to reflect and remember the promises of God to send us a Savior.  To reflect upon the pervasive darkness and brokenness of our world and of ourselves.  To reflect upon the utter inability of our efforts to address this via religious striving and keeping up a strong outward impression of ourselves as holy people and people who have it all together.

The world is not divided into saved and unsaved people.  Instead the division is between those of us who are honest enough to acknowledge the obvious (that we all need a Savior), and those who attempt to ignore this, at their own peril.  Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2:17).

Who needs Advent?  Answer:  We all do.

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