December 18, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: The Mood of Advent

The Light and the Darkness. Photo by Sippanont Samchai

Monday with Michael Spencer
The Mood of Advent

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.

The 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

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Photo by Sippanont Samchai at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

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

    Michael was blessed with a wisdom and an honesty we loved; but truth be told, his words seem a prophetic vision for our own time.

    https://vimeo.com/55888215

  2. “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.”

    True then, truer now. Kyrie eleison. 🙁

    • The world goes about its business-as-usual, just as it did before and at the coming of Christ. Why should we expect it to be any different today? It’s sad that so many Christians are swept up in the materialism of it all, looking forward to and then celebrating the birth of Christ in the spirit of that materialism;, but I suspect it has always been so, in one way or another, even when the Western Church made sure that whole societies kept strict liturgical correctness, never mixing Advent with Christmas. It’s just that we’re better at materialism than they were, thanks to expanded capitalism, and less embarrassed to be ostentatious about it. Back in the day, only royalty and nobles got to be ostentatious about it; now a lot more people are in on the dazzling show. Those in need, of course, continue to be left in the shadows where Christ incarnated.

    • Well, I replied to you, but my reply went missing in cyberspace. Let’s see if this one does too.

  3. Burro (Mule) says:

    What makes Michael Spencer’s writing so poignant is that he never was speaking as an “ascended” liberal to brutish unevolved Fundamentalists. He was, until his dying day, one of that tribe, bedeviled mostly by the beating, living catholic heart buried deep within that tradition. I do not believe Baptists were all that fond of Michael, because he called them out on their own grounds.

    He was kind of like Richard Beck in reverse. I want to despise Beck, but I can’t. He’s doing for liberals what Michael did for the Fundies.

    God bless both of them.

  4. Steve Newell says:

    When one observes Advent, one must also include the readings found in the common lectionary and in traditional Advent hymns.

    Advent is more than just a countdown to Christmas but a time to look to Christ’s return.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Unfortunately for me and so many others “Christ’s Return” has been poisoned by Hal Lindsay, Jack Chick, and Left Behind-ism.

      • Christiane says:

        Hello Headless,

        when I read what you wrote, I got the idea that maybe the “poisoning” of ‘Christ’s Return’ would be one reason why evangelical/fundamentalists would not have an ‘advent’ season at all

        it’s good that they kept something of the Church Year to celebrate, but without an ‘advent’ season, is Christmas still Christmas in the fullest sense? It’s hard to imagine celebrating Christmas without a meaningful spiritual preparation.

        Headless, what did Hal Lindsay, Jack Chick, and ‘Left-Behind-ism’ do to evangelical anticipation of Our Lord’s return???? I can imagine Jack Chick making a mess of things, sure, but who gave him the power to ‘poison’ something so longed-for in the faith??? What is involved in what they did to create so much ruin???

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Primarily dwelling on the mass destruction angle and J-Day Eternal Hellfire to “scare ’em into the Kingdom” for the Altar Call. And I mean DWELLING on the Mass Destruction Angle and Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist in lip-smacking detail. DON’T BE LEFT BEHIND!

          “Too many Christians are more interested in The Antichrist than they are Christ.”
          — J Vernon Magee

          What Lindsay did was knock off the Cold War trope of Human Extinction through Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War and just Christianize it (it’s coming… it’s coming…. clock is ticking… clock is ticking… tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick…), adding the Rapture escape hatch (conditional on Say-the-Magic-Words Salvation), and painting everything as Total Mass Destruction of the Entire Cosmos (Unless You Get Saved). This dovetailed perfectly into Jack Chick’s This Was Your Life Great White Throne scene.

          And in my experience, Late Great Planet Earth became Inerrant SCRIPTURE(TM), superseding all previous versions. Have you ever seen Bible Studies without a Bible in sight (except to recite the proof texts for LGPE)? I have. That was Evangelical Christianity on-campus in the early Seventies (about the same time PapaChuckSmithCalvaryChapelCostaLotta was institutionalizing those dogmas.

          • Christiane says:

            whoah!

            this is worrisome: “Have you ever seen Bible Studies without a Bible in sight (except to recite the proof texts for LGPE)? I have. That was Evangelical Christianity on-campus in the early Seventies. . . ”

            I’m struggling now with noticing that Liberty University is supporting some ‘prophet’ named Mark Taylor who is spouting “prophecy” daily on the destruction of all who oppose the Lord’s Appointed One . . . by name of one Donald Trump . . . .
            Headless, I wouldn’t worry so much about this charlatan except that Liberty University is supporting him with a film they are making;
            isn’t Liberty University even worried that this guy is a charlatan?

      • Steve Newell says:

        It’s ironic that Hal Lindsay, et al, have focused on the human side of Christ’s return. They don’t spend much time about the Christ who will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom is without end.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          In a way, they focused on just the opposite, ignoring-to-denigrating the physical like a Pneumatic Gnostic.

          Everything we’ve seen, heard, touched, known, and lived?
          “IT’S ALL GONNA BURN(TM)…”

  5. Michael could hit it out of the ballpark.

    Love this insightful reminder for me…for us all.

    Thanks for posting this.

  6. “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.'”

    I love how he was always able to hit the essential issue in such a simple, straightforward way.

    • –> “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.’”

      Bingo. And there are days when that’s never more clear, like for me today, for reasons I won’t get into.

      • Christiane says:

        I never thought about it like that, but if someone thinks they ‘are saved’, how does that impact their understanding of the great Christian prayer, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me.’
        (?)

        • I think the “thinking you are saved” has the danger of leading one to a bit of self-righteousness. A “I’m saved” person has more of a chance to lead to “I’m chosen, I’m elect, I’m special,” which can lead one away from that feeling that they need mercy as much as the unsaved person. See Matthew 23 for the religious folks in Jesus day who thought they were chosen and “elect,” and how they ended up drifting far from the feeling that they needed mercy.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Somebody called that “Being Over-Saved”, and you sure found a LOT of Over-ripe Over-Saved in the Evangelical Bubble when the Jesus People were institutionalizing into Calvary Chapel and its clones.