December 3, 2020

iMonk Classic: Michael Spencer Helps Us Prepare for Advent

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer
From November, 2008

Original Title: “Riffs: Joseph Bottum on the End of Advent (and the horror of our version of Christmas)”

Many years ago, we made a decision to, as much as possible, speak of Advent and not of Christmas, until Christmas. I’ve never been able to hold off the Christmas music, but as much as possible we’ve stayed with that commitment.

It’s also amusing to watch my co-workers get the puzzled look when I start referring to “advent,” something some/most of the have never heard of. They often assume I’m one of the “Christmas is a Babylonian occultic festival” whack jobs, which we usually have somewhere in the gallery.

It’s really very simple: Christmas is the feast of the incarnation and the season following that event. Advent is the recognition that we need a savior and the longing for that savior to come, according to God’s promises.

Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the savior in the scriptures and in the world.

That distinction should save us. We think we can manufacture our own salvation by going shopping. Advent says we cannot save ourselves, that only God can save us and that in his own time and in his own way.

First Advent and First Candle is Lit, Ola Wiberg

Christmas is the return of the pagan festivals that we Christianized; the triumph of the commercial invention of a “holiday as shopping season” to end the year. It is the pagan, secular, godless imagination creating its own world of blessed wonder by way of its own story and its own magic. Christmas has become, in many ways, as spiritually dangerous as any of the recognized belief systems that apologists spend their time dismantling.

Joseph Bottum takes on the loss of Advent in the rise of the secular Christmas in an essay that continues to demonstrate his skill and importance as a writer. While I wish that Bottum had acknowledged the rediscovery of Advent by many evangelicals and the potential of the rediscovery to introduce the Christian year as a counterbalance to the pragmatic manipulation of time at the heart of our culture, it’s still an outstanding essay.

Read Joseph Bottum: The End of Advent.

I have written about the celebration of Advent in our family with suggestions for that celebration in your family: Observing Advent and Christmas: Thoughts for the Christian Family.

I’ve also written on “The Mood of Advent.”

I hope all of this helps you get off to a good start with Advent this year.


  1. Glad to know I am not the only Advent Christian. This was a real treat. Sorry I never got to meet Michael

  2. That’s very helpful- thank you!


  3. Wonderful words, especially to us Catholics who will also spend Advent learning the new translations of the prayers at Mass (they RE-translated from Latin to English to get to better grip on the poetry of the original).

  4. The Joseph Bottom article is insightful. It may help explain how some evangelicals can be so rabid in their enthusiastic defense of Christmas but then shutter their church doors on Christmas day. Perhaps it is a matter of sheer exhaustion, that we are done with Christmas before it even arrives.

    As I read many of the essays recorded in “Watch for the Light” by Plough Publishing, I noticed a common theme: Christmas isn’t about us, our gifts, our nostalgia, our families, or our sentimental feelings. What? Blasphemy, you say? No, Christmas is the arrival of the Christ child. Advent is the time we prepare for that arrival. It seems that in our efforts to keep Christ in Christmas that we have lost the role Christ holds in Christmas. The urgency, the kairos of the moment is lost. As a result, the entire meaning of the season is lost.