Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Is The Deal With Evangelicals And Advent?

Advent WreathLast week, USA TODAY ran an article entitled, Evangelicals adopting Advent. Sunday was the first day of Advent and if you would like to learn more about what Advent is, please see these links I have posted here. I will have more to say about Advent in other posts but now I want to discuss some issues that were raised in the comments section of the online version of the USA TODAY article and elsewhere. Responses ranged from "its about time, welcome to what we've been doing for years" to "they're going Catholic" to "they're adopting pagan practices" to "digging wells is nice but should have nothing to do with Advent." Before I briefly reply to these comments I want to ask:

Why wouldn't evangelicals want to observe Advent? It hardly seems right that one special Christmas service or cantata (what, you don't know what a "cantata" is?!) would be sufficient enough time or means to reflect upon and celebrate one of the most radically significant and world-changing events in the history of mankind (Christ's resurrection, ascension, and second advent being other candidates in this category). As Christmas approached, it was said of the founder of evangelicalism that "all his words and songs and thoughts concerned the incarnation of our Lord." (Who is the founder of evangelicalism? Why, Martin Luther, of course!) Luther said,
"Oh, we poor people that we should be so cold and indifferent to this great joy that has been given us. For this is indeed the greatest gift, which far exceeds all else that God has created. Yet we believe so sluggishly, even though the angels proclaim and preach and sing, and their lovely song sums up the whole Christian faith, for 'Glory to God in the highest' is the very heart of worship." [source]
As Advent is an intentional and prolonged celebration of and reflection upon the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah and Savior, Jesus the Christ, I ask again: why wouldn't we want to observe Advent? And this is to not even mention the historically deep, liturgically rich, and refreshingly ecumenical aspects of Advent that should come as a breath of fresh air to many evangelicals.

Now on to my brief responses to some of the comments I have read in response to the aforementioned USA TODAY article. Many of the comments I read were very favorable and encouraging so I do not want to make it seem as if people were ranting against the article but a few common negative strands surfaced that I want to touch upon.

Get With The Program!
Members of the more liturgical "high church" traditions have been observing Advent for quite a long time so it should be expected that some of these brothers and sisters are asking evangelicals: "what took you so long?" Point well taken, what can I say? Your low church brethren think it is a good idea to adopt some of the more helpful observances that you all have benefited from for years so why not offer us a hand? And that is exactly what many websites have done as you can see from links I mentioned above. Some evangelicals have come to appreciate the traditional practices and more liturgical forms of worship that those in other traditions have observed all along. Non-evangelicals may not appreciate how evangelicals have adapted some of their practices but perhaps small areas of common ground such of the observing of Advent might be celebrated rather than looked down upon or mocked.

They're going "Catholic"!
To this I respectfully say, "Give me a break!" That's all.

Darkness to Light Advent Procession, Salisbury Cathedral (UK)Seriously, this one is a head-scratcher. But rather than just dismiss the comment let me take a shot at what might be going on here. Some folks have the idea that anything that smacks of a traditional order of worship, includes liturgical elements of any kind, involves reciting creeds or traditional prayers or has a candle, goblet, or a book other than the Bible is "Catholic." And yet what you will find is that the churches that these folks are members of conduct worship in a manner that is just as ordered, predictable, repetitive, and liturgical as high-church worship. The "traditional liturgy" of these churches may be measured in decades rather than centuries but it is there nonetheless. Is it possible that less of a reliance upon the shifting demands of what is in vogue today could be a good thing? Perhaps we could benefit from true, beneficial, and Christ-glorifying expressions of worship and devotion that have stood the test of time for countless numbers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

To be continued in "What Is The Deal With Evangelicals And Advent, Part Two"

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