We interrupt our regularly scheduled Advent broadcast … or do we?


As we embark on the the fourth and final week, I want to acknowledge I’ve received some questions about the Advent themes and the “traditional” order they’ve fallen in. For some people and traditions the themes of Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy are familiar, but the expected order is different. For others the actual themes themselves may vary.

It’s all OK.

Traditions like Advent wreaths, candles, and the season itself don’t exist for our slavish dedication. They are rituals we have created to periodically remind ourselves of certain aspects of our faith. The point of them is not whether the pink candle is for Joy or the fourth week is for Peace, but to help us reflect on our need for Christ to enter our lives and the world.

Maybe mixing it up is a good thing. When people ask whether I get tired of reading the same scriptures every year, of hearing the same story of Jesus being born,  or of celebrating them same seasons over and over, my answer is always: “No, I don’t, because even though the stories don’t change, I’m in a different place in my life and faith journey, so I am always hearing and learning something different.” Mixing up the weeks of Advent provides another opportunity for fresh perspective, while at the same time providing a familiar and comforting framework.

In a couple days our readings will include the Magnificat, the words of Mary as she praises God for using her as a vessel to redeem her people. Mary’s prayer speaks new messages to me every time I read it. It doesn’t change, but I do. For some people though, it will be the same every time, and that’s fine. They made need a slight change to hear new meaning, and an unexpected difference in the order of themes or a fresh Biblical interpretation like The Message may provide the catalyst.

So if your regular broadcast of Advent has been interrupted, I hope that has helped you see, hear, feel, consider, and learn new things. Christ enters the world in unexpected ways. Expect that.


The war on… Advent?

WarOnAdventWhen do you think the “Christmas Season” starts? Is it the (ever earlier) day when stores begin displaying Christmas merchandise? When the radio starts playing carols? Right after Thanksgiving? When the television starts showing Christmas movies? Are we heading into a state of perpetual holiday preparation, or is there an official beginning to the Christmas season?

According to the church calendar, there certainly is: December 25.

Christmas begins on Christmas day and lasts until Epiphany, or January 6 (by which time traditionalists are pawning those five gold rings to board drummers, pipers, partridges, and the rest). Our culture tells us the four Sundays preceding Christmas are for kicking our holiday preparation into high gear, but they mark the beginning of the church year and the season of Advent.

Anyone wishing you “Merry Christmas” before that date is part of the media’s War On Advent.

Haven’t heard of that particular war? It’s the one that tells us to begin our materialistic holiday sprint in October and not stop until we collapse from exhaustion on January 2nd. Who has time to think about the first Sunday of Advent when we’re focused on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday? Or about the next three Sundays while we’re wrapping, baking, decorating, shopping, mailing, and partying?

Ironically, Advent is a season of reflection – a time intended for us to slow down to consider what it meant that Christ came into the world and why we long for his return. The season focuses on hope, love, joy, and peace. These themes are certainly cause for celebration, but they also remind us the world is desperately in need of each. Can we possibly reconcile Advent with the frenzy of “the holidays?” Some hard-core Advent fans will tell you a tree decorated before Christmas Eve is almost a sacrilege.

But maybe we can. Trees, presents, decorations – these are all secular aspects layered onto the traditions of our faith. Each of us can be intentionally reflective during this season, no matter what we are doing. Stringing up lights in the cold is a fine metaphor and opportunity for contemplating the coming of Christ into the world. Bargain hunting with the throngs at your local big box store is a challenge to honor the dignity of others under less than dignified circumstances. While we prepare holiday dinners, we can think of ways to reach those who lack food and loved ones. The important things we are meant to contemplate during Advent don’t stop being important after Christmas, New Year’s Day, or Epiphany. Our challenge is not simply to be solemn during Advent: it is to allow ourselves to be transformed by the presence of God in our meditations and celebrations, and in such transformation to find newer and better ways of living into the love of Christ through serving our neighbors. Be merry, but also be Mary.