Advent

Should We Celebrate Advent?

© 2015 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc. Used by permission.

“We’ve never done that here before.”

That brief statement was intended to provide a comprehensive resolution to my introduction of an Advent candle into the services of the church I pastored several years ago. I had asked each of the deacons to begin one of the morning services during the four Sundays of Advent by lighting an Advent candle and sharing a two-minute testimony regarding the importance of the season.

I thought that the mounting popularity of Advent calendars, candles and wreaths within evangelical (i.e., non-liturgical) churches would allow our small fellowship to enjoy this simple ceremony—possibly forging a meaningful new tradition. At least it would be better than two more minutes of announcements, I surmised.

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Still Waiting

Christendom just wrapped up its official season of waiting. “Advent” (from the Latin, adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival”) is a nearly month long liturgical celebration marking the long-awaited arrival of Messiah some 2,000 years ago.

But coupled to this retrospective, celebratory focus, there is also to be a prospective, anticipatory disposition. To be sure, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, was born in a Bethlehem stable two millennia past. But this same Jesus will come again and Christians are called to await his second advent with expectant hope (Titus 2:13).

It is worth noting that the disposition of awaiting Messiah’s coming binds God’s people together across the millennia. From the first cryptic prophesy (Genesis 3:15), thousands of years of increasingly unambiguous prophesies encouraged a spirit of keen anticipation of Messiah’s first advent.

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Advent and Christmas

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Any Christian discussion of holidays must begin with the recognition that we observe them in the absence of any biblical requirement. Does this mean that it is wrong to celebrate holidays? Not as long as the holiday is simply a focused instance of something that Christians have a biblical obligation to do anyway. Christians ought to ponder the incarnation, so it is not wrong to have a day or even a season regularly set aside for that purpose. Christians ought to exult in Jesus’ resurrection, so it is not wrong to set aside a day to focus especially on that event. Observances such as Easter and Christmas are allowable as matters of circumstance, but they must never be treated as required elements of our worship.

What complicates the discussion is the large number of cultural and commercial accretions that tend to attach themselves to the holidays. Holidays can even become occasions of vice. Something like this has happened within American Christianity. Evidently, the liturgical calendar of modern America includes seven principal holidays, each of which is devoted to the pursuit of a deadly sin: Thanksgiving (gluttony), Christmas (greed), Valentine’s Day (lust), Easter (envy), Independence Day (pride), Labor Day (sloth), and Halloween (vengeance).

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