November 26, 2020

iMonk Classic: The Mood of Advent: We All Need A Savior


I have several friends who are doing Advent in their Baptist churches for the first time, and they have lots of questions about candles and logistics. I wish there were more questions about Advent itself.

For example, the mood of Advent is dark and serious. It’s not the mood of Lent, which is a particular kind of seriousness as the shadow of the cross extends over our path. It’s the mood of darkness that comes because the world is in darkness.

We need a savior.

This is the time that we stop and see that the powers of evil are entrenched in the world. Evil authorities and and evil persons are having their way. A good creation is being ruined. Hearts made for love and light are imprisoned, crying out and empty.

There is war, terror, the loss of innocence and the curses of ignorance, poverty and death. The wise men of this age are propagating nonsense. Men and women made in God’s image are addicted to the worst the darkness has to offer. They think backwards and cannot find their way out of the dungeon. They have lost their will to live and love, and have settled for the cheapest and palest of imitations.

Advent’s darkness includes the failure of religion to bring any light to this fallen and dying world. Religion has become as empty as fool’s errand as can be imagined. The religious take themselves seriously, but the world hears the hollowness of it all.

In the Christian family itself, the prosperity gospel makes a mockery of the very savior it claims to proclaim. Western Christians plunge into the pagan celebration, spending thousands on themselves and their children. We spend enough on our lights to save thousands upon thousands of lives. But those lives are in the darkness of Advent’s waiting. Our “lights” are nothing more than an extension of that darkness. They have nothing to do with the true light that comes to the world.

big_thumb_0af6fbecfb4fad87efd588d3789a483dThe real center of Advent’s dark mood is that we need a savior. We who sing and go to church for musicals and eat too much and buy too much and justify the season by our strange measurements of suffering.

We light candles and wait because, after looking around and taking stock, there should be no doubt that we need a savior.

Ironically, after 2,000 years of offering our Savior to others, we- Christians- need one more than ever. When we mark ourselves has “having” Christ more than “needing” Christ, we miss the Spirit of the Advent season.

Despite the fact that the world needs a savior, those offering him and his story to the world look no more “saved” than anyone else. In fact, with an extra facade of religion or two, we seem to be in every bit as bad a shape as the world we call “lost.”

The mood of Advent is that we are all lost. Advent isn’t about the “saved” telling the “lost” to “get saved.” Advent is a light that dawns in all of our darknesses. Advent is bread for all of our hungers. Advent is the promise kept for all of us promise-breakers, betrayers and failures.

Can we find a way to celebrate Advent as those who NEED to be saved? As those who NEED a savior? Not as those who know for certain that someone else does?

Scripture says that we who had not received mercy have now received mercy. Those who were nobodies are now the people of God.

The key to Advent is not living as if we are the people of God and always have been. The key is to live as if we need a Savior, and he has come to us, found us, saved us and is there for everyone in the world.

The mood of Advent isn’t “come be religious like us.” It is “We are all waiting for our Savior to be born. Let us wait together. And when he comes, let us recognize him, together.”

When the day dawns, let us all receive him. We go to the manger and worship. We give to him our gifts. We take his light to the poor.

Until then, we are the poor, the weak, the blind, the lonely, the guilty and the desperate. We light candles because we who are in darkness are in need of a great light. We need a savior.

So we wait amidst the ruins, we protect the lights we hold in hope. We sing to one who is coming. We look and wonder. We pray for his star to take us, once again, to the miracle.


Originally posted December 2007


  1. David Cornwell says

    Seven years on, and I must say that this is one of the best, one that speaks powerfully to us in this present darkness. What can I say, but Come Lord Jesus.

  2. Vega Magnus says

    Fantastic writing. The idea of Advent as a somber time has never occurred to me before. I don’t think it is even possible unless we bite the bullet and completely divorce the cultural Christmas from the religious Christmas, and even then, there would still be too much residue left from the holiday industrial complex.

    • Vega Magnus says

      Typo in the e-mail address messed up my Gravatar.

    • I’ve come to see the cultural Christmas as part of the darkness and discipline of Advent. We live in a world, and often a Church, that thinks it already has all that it needs, and believes that it no longer needs to wait in hope and longing for redemption. There is no way that I can fight against this premature Christmas, either in myself or in the culture around; Advent calls me not to fight, but to undertake the discipline of looking through this darkness of premature Christmas (which as often happens on and after Dec. 25th as it does before) toward the East in hope and longing for the promised Light that lights the world. It’s a Light that appears through the darkness, even, or perhaps especially, the darkness of prematurely lit Christmas trees and decorations, of shopping fatigue and forced cheer. And the longing of Advent is lifelong.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “I’ve come to see the cultural Christmas as part of the darkness and discipline of Advent.”

        I like this very much. “Cultural Christmas” is a phrase that makes me want to spit. It is what Christians (and we mainliners are as guilty of this as anyone) say to justify the month-long orgy of wretched excess and bad jingles so unlike the nativity of Jesus. “But,” we say, “that is the cultural Christmas. It is completely different from the religious Christmas, which is much more important.” We might even employ that kitschy image of Santa Claus bowing down before Jesus. But in actual practice we devote endless time and treasure to the “cultural Christmas” and an hour or two on Christmas Eve to the “religious Christmas.”

    • Advent could be useful as a kind of law. Even as we fail to keep it “successfully” it reminds us of our need for the Savior. Keeping Advent may add to our righteousness less than failing and nevertheless repenting at the foot of the cradle.

  3. Thanks for this crucial reminder from Michael!

  4. “In the bleak midwinter…”

  5. “The key is to live as if we need a Savior, and He has come to us, found us, saved us and is there for everyone in the world.”

    yes, this

  6. This piece is a rightful iMonk classic. It resonated with me deeply the first time and its power has not faded.

    Thanks for running it again, Chap.

  7. from Anglican priest Malcolm Guite, this reflection on ‘our wounded world’ :

    “Come to us Wisdom, come Unspoken Name
    Come Root, and Key, and King, and Holy Flame,
    O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
    Be folded with us into time and place,
    Unfold for us the mystery of grace
    And make a womb of all this wounded world.
    O Heart of Heaven beating in the earth,
    O tiny Hope within our hopelessness
    Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
    To touch a dying world with new-made Hands
    And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.”

  8. Beautiful indeed.

    Michael’s piece beautifully evokes the waiting, and the reason for the waiting.

    The first lines of Christiane’s posted poem evokes the words of the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The descriptors of Christ are featured in each of the 7 days before Christmas as part of the “O Antiphons” – read here:

    My family resists the Cultural Christmas by keeping the decorations very sparse until these last few days. We normally get our tree up about the 21st or 22nd and leave it up until after Epiphany. Advent is meant to be anticipatory, so we let ourselves anticipate…


    • Hi DANA,

      Malcolm Guite has written on all of the ‘O Antiphons’. The quote is from the final one. They are all beautifully written reflections.

  9. “We need a savior.”

    It’s a simple message, truly the first part of the story of the Bible. Glad to be living after the Good News has come.

  10. What a fantastic post. A friend forwarded it to me. So much to think about, yet so simple. You’ve inspired me towards making next year’s advent a whole lot different!

  11. This writing is why I bookmarked this page when I found it.
    The man could certainly write. The compassion in his words as he spoke his truth is what kept me coming back.
    I miss him very much.