January 19, 2020

The Mood of Advent: We All Need A Savior

german-girl-candles.jpgUpdate: This piece isn’t universally appreciated 🙂 Remember that Advent isn’t the season of Joy. It’s the season of waiting.

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.

Comments

  1. Sadly, we are not doing an Advent service this year. However, for the past two years we have done Tenebrae services, which were very well received.

    …we are slowly moving into the liturgical calendar’s great ‘movements’ of the year.

    Our Baptists churches have been taught to either fear or mistrust the calendar. To our detriment, I’m afraid.

  2. Well said.

  3. Well said–you’ve captured the meaning of Advent as well as anything I’ve seen this year.

    Henry couldn’t have put it better. I have been thinking about him since your post the other day. Although I can’t describe it here, he handled an indecent incident in our history class in a truly classy way, so much so, that most of us in the class, myself included, didn’t know that anything had happened until the few who saw it told us later.

  4. The spirit of your post captures perfectly the essence of the hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem”.

    It also explains why I get so sad every year when everyone around me starts shopping and baking cookies and throwing parties. Thanks for describing it so well.

  5. “We need a savior.” So much in that. So very much. Thanks for an excellent post.

  6. AMEN

    “Come Desire of Nations Come, fix in us Thy humble home
    Rise the woman’s conquering seed, bruise in us the serpent’s head.
    Adam’s likeness now efface, stamp thine image in its place.
    Second Adam from above, reinstate us in Thy Love.”

    The often unsung 4th verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing

  7. Thank you, Michael. I needed this for my own spiritual life.

  8. Thanks for the thoughts on Advent Michael.

    This is a good reminder of where to focus. As we approach the third Sunday, which often has the theme of Joy, these are good thoughts. The waiting in the OT was marked by a joy in the knowledge that God would make good on His promises. As we keep this season of waiting and anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we can share that joy in a special way. We know how the story ends. We know that the Suffering Servant, the King, the Messiah that we all so desperately need does come and dwell among us. Then…”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.”

    Amen.

    Brian Coffey

  9. A good post. I know what you’re saying, and I know it needs saying, but I was already down in the dumps *before* I read it…

    I know I need a Savior. Every day, I “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.” Every day I feel my inadequacy and unworthiness like a weight on my shoulders. Every day I peer into the blackness of my soul and struggle to believe in and accept God’s grace to me through Jesus.

    Today, I wept, asking for some little sign or word that I’m on the right track, or at least not way out in left field. Then I stopped asking, deciding that it is better to continue in faith, even if that means struggle and sadness, than to have certain knowledge. I’d rather be the tax collector than the Pharisee praying at the temple.

    But man, I feel like the bruised reed, the smoldering wick. I definitely mark myself as ‘needing’ the Savior. I barely mark myself as ‘having’ the Savior at all. Is even that little bit presumptuous and prideful? I know I need a savior, and I know I look like the world and am not doing enough to reach the world. Now, on top of everything, I’m guilty of stringing an extension of the world’s darkness on my house (at least they’re LED bulbs and will last longer and use less power), and my plans to take cookies around the neighborhood tomorrow to introduce my family to our new neighbors is a crass part of the pagan din. Ugh.

    I know I’m being obtuse here and probably not taking this the right way. But when I think “well, my head and heart are on the right track, don’t take it too personally, he’s aiming it more at other people,” well, we can see the problem and danger with that kind of thinking. I certainly am not trying to detract from your message here. We *do* need it.

    Sorry, not trying to be a wet blanket here. New in town, not plugged into the new church yet (still not absolutely certain it’s even the right one), still not many friends here, needed to cry in my beer. But I do hope I am able to feel some joy when my daughters light the Joy candle tomorrow.

    Peace,

    Jerry

  10. My Baptist church is liturgical – we are very big on following the calendar and the lectionary readings for the day. It provides a good framework for worship. AND as a bonus, we have FOUR scripture readings a week. In Baptist churches I grew up in, we were lucky to get a fragment of a verse on a given Sunday. For people who are so neurotic about the Authority of Scripture, this is just pathetic.

    For the past several years, our the deacons of our church have compiled a devotional booklet for Advent. This year we expanded the list of readings for each day to FIVE (A morning and evening Psalm, OT, Epistle, and Gospel). Each deacon wrote an essay on one of the passages for each day of Advent. The booklet has been a great sucess in getting people in touch with scripture.

    I look back on my years as a “traditional” Baptist and I have to say “why we did ever do that?” We burned our bridges to the Christian past and ended up wandering aimlessly between Christmas and Easter and back again. It was like the church existed in a kind of time warp, where every Sunday was always May 21, a day of no special significance, neither spring nor summer or anything else. And for what? I have no idea.

  11. I actually made a video introducing the concept of Advent for worship last year. It ain’t perfect – but it was the best I could do with the time and tools I had on hand at the time. It served as the sermon on the first Sunday of Advent last year – you can view it here.

    I’ve often wondered why Christians keep arguing about saying “Merry Christmas” during Advent….

  12. Michael,

    This was a wonderful post. I shared it with my husband and we are sharing it with everyone. You brought us to the place we need to be at to appreciate Advent’s significance. Blessed Advent to you and yours.

  13. Our church does an advent candle, but beyond that it’s nothing more than trotting a family up in front of church. I think our fear of creating a sense and mood of darkness anticipating light would seem to negative.

    When I preached last year’s Good Friday service it carried a bit of dread in it. Kind of rare for our church. But what’s the saying? It gets darkest just before the light appears.

  14. Right on, Michael. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get our church to understand that Advent is not a time of celebration, but a time of preparation. It is not a joyous occassion, it is as you have said a season of waiting for the joyous occasion.

    I think people have a hard time waiting, don’t you. They just want what they want now. Christmas seems to be no exception.

    But at least we do observe a form of Advent, which is a move in the right direction. This is only a three year old observance in our church. I guess I need to be patient and continue to wait for our dear folks to catch on. 🙂

  15. Dark … but not entirely. Advent, the way I’ve experienced since childhood, is about longing, yes, waiting, yes, but also hoping, yearning … the way we yearn when we’re counting down the minutes until a loved one who has been gone for a long time comes home.

    As I told some teenagers during the first week of Advent, it’s about getting in touch with that part of our souls that hungers for the Lord.

    But ah, Gaudete Sunday has just passed and now we are also moving towards greater excitement and anticipation …. 🙂

  16. …we are slowly moving into the liturgical calendar’s great ‘movements’ of the year.

    Our Baptists churches have been taught to either fear or mistrust the calendar. To our detriment, I’m afraid.

    And in the end you will probably end up with something very similar to what Catholics like me have been doing for centuries. (Which the C-word automatically makes anathema.) I see the Magisterium and Tradition as a body of precedent and experience, an institutional memory of what works and what doesn’t. And I also see Baptists and other Protestants (primarily the younger, non-liturgical ones) constantly reinventing the wheel.

    I have no problem with Advent as celebrated in my parish. Due to my past, the surrounding “Happy Holidays!” have been something to be endured more than enjoyed. (Didn’t Chesterton’s Father Brown make a point that “There is no torment in Hell as terrible as Constant Forced Cheerfulness” in the story “Three Tools of Death”?)

    Advent: Four weeks of quiet preparation, resting up for the twelve-day party from Christmas to Epiphany. Makes a lot more sense than…

    Current Xmas: Two-three months of rushing around, shopping, partying, and being subject to cheezy Xmas songs, cheezy TV specials, and Constant Forced Cheerfulness until by the time December 25th comes around, you’re too burned out to enjoy anything. (Oh, and you’re expected back at work on the 26th.) I have heard that the divorce, domestic violence, and depression rates all peak around this time of year. Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Burnout!

  17. Ken,

    The last paragraph of your post just became a part of my Christmas Eve message entitled “The Simplicity of Christmas.”

  18. In reaction to Ken’s comment:

    I had a conversation with some friends about Advent today, and one of my friends who is more knowledgable about me in liturgical matters said that if one strictly follows the Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas songs aren’t supposed to be played until the 25th (at least, they aren’t supposed to be played/sung during Mass; of course no one can tell you what music to listen to outside of Mass). I didn’t know that until he told me.

    Of course, no-Christmas-songs-until-Christmas is a difficult rule to implement (at least where I come from; I don’t know how it is in your diocese), because people are so excited to start singing Christmas carols as soon as they can, and so the minute the calendar hits the first Sunday of Advent, choirs immediately begin to sing “Adeste Fideles.”

    But quite frankly, my favorite hymns of the entire liturgical calendar are Advent hymns. “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” gives me the goosebumps, and every Advent I find myself humming it to myself in my idle moments. On Christmas Eve, it can move me to tears. And “O Come, Divine Messiah” is like a love song to Christ.

  19. Wonderful post, Michael. I’ve been encouraging our EV Free church to celebrate Advent for the past few years, and this year it’s been wonderful. We’ve been lighting the candles, reading Scripture, and singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in our Sunday School class (which is led by a man who also attends Mass). We’ve also been lighting the candles, discussing the different symbols of each candle, reading Scripture, and praying in our church services; in fact, our pastor has truly embraced the longing and yearning for light in the darkness this year more than any other. Thanks for articulating what has been on my heart throughout this holy season.

    Susanne

  20. comment6,