I LOVE everything about the Christmas season; Advent, decorations, music, lights, all of it. Quite a few years ago I even wrote an Advent devotional to help members of my then church, and my family, come to understand the season even more.
Advent, for those who are not familiar, is the season of preparation and waiting leading up to the Birth of Christ. I don't want to go into the history of it--but, trust me, there is no shortage of information available if you desire it--but I've always had just one complaint about the season: waiting until Christmas to display the baby Jesus, put out the Wise Men, or singing hymns specifically about Jesus' birth. In fact, I dislike this portion so much, that I never follow it. My current church sticks to the liturgical divide of Advent and Christmas, so I get my fill of Christmas hymns singing to patients in my hospice work, and, okay, to be honest, on my iPod too. I have multiple nativities on display beginning Thanksgiving weekend and each and every one incorporate the baby in the manger and the journeying wise men.
I can hear my fellow fellow clergy and theologically/liturgically minded friends cringing even as I type, preparing their arguments for me (purely out of love, of course), but my personal argument has always been: I understand the value of entering into a time to focus on waiting for Christ's birth (and return), but I also find it important to celebrate that this work has already been done. Jesus already was born, the Wise Men already came; after all, why have the season at all if none of it has yet occurred?
I imagine at this point some of you are wondering what spurred this, especially since we are now in the season of Lent. I'm glad you asked! Picture this: this past Wednesday, while at worship rehearsal running the projection and signing along (I do this when I'm not on as vocalist because the music choices of our worship pastor are too great not to sing) when I suddenly found myself thinking, 'Wait! We're singing about the Risen Lord!" I quickly reconciled this knowing that in the season of Lent from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week the focus is on penitence and Christ's sacrifice because of our sin--except on Sundays. Why not Sundays? Because they are meant to be celebrated as mini-Easters because the Resurrection HAS ALREADY OCCURRED. All of that thought happened in my brain in about 5 seconds and was immediately followed by--"hmmm. Why in Lent do we celebrate, at least on Sundays, what has already been done, but in Advent we do not?"
I raised this ponder with said worship pastor and we had a great conversation that, of course, kept us moving in a circle. But I walked away from that conversation with a question that persists even now, two days later: for whom were church seasons created? Why do we have these traditions and their associated guidelines? God certainly doesn't need them.
Again, I could get technical and talk about things from the proper liturgical a/o theological perspective, but that just isn't me. I'll talk from the heart instead--which is precisely why I'm called to chaplaincy (more wiggle room with the rules, calendars, etc).
I believe we have church seasons so that we as believers remember The Story of Christ. So that we remember the whole narrative from creation, to the manger, to the cross, to the empty tomb, and to today as we await the fullness of God's redemptive plan. I also greatly appreciate the Reformed notion of "Already, Not Yet", meaning all the work has already been done but we are not yet experiencing the fullness. When I look at my nativities I am reminded of what has already been done even as I wait for Christ to come again. When I approach the Table and partake of the bread and the blood, I am reminded of what has already been done even as I wait for Christ to come again. When I reflect, confess, and repent, I am reminded and grateful for the sacrifice already made even as I wait to experience the fullness that awaits when Christ comes again.
So, that's my take on this inaugural "Things That Make You Go Hmmm" post. Join the conversation by posting a comment. Leave a suggestion in the Suggestion Box to get my opinion on something that makes you go "hmmm", and be sure to sign up to follow the Blog so you don't miss my response.