Advent begins on Sunday and at 8&H we will focus on it’s meaning for the next four weeks. Christians have honored this discipline across traditions, cultures, and centuries, but it remains a little foreign to us in the Churches of Christ. So, here are some basics for you to consider in advance of the season.
What is Advent?
Advent is the first season of the historic Christian calendar. The season begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on the evening of December 24 (which is called Christmastide – the point in time when Advent gives way to Christmas). The focus of Advent is on learning to anticipate God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises.
The Christian Calendar?
To understand Advent, you need to know some things about the broader Christian calendar. At it’s most basic level, the historic Christian calendar is a discipline in the life of many churches that annually leads Christians through the life of Jesus. There are four basic seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. As churches move through each season, they collectively play out the life of Jesus in the corporate life of their community. Practiced intentionally year after year, this becomes a powerful rhythm that can draw us closer into life with Christ as congregations take nearly half of each year to reenact the life of Jesus.
Advent is the first season of this reenactment and it represents the centuries of faithful longing on the part of God’s people prior to the coming of the Messiah. Advent cautions us against rushing ahead to the celebration of Christmas because we still live “in between the times”: God’s kingdom project has begun, but he isn’t finished. Living in the middle, between promise and fulfillment, we are called to be a people characterized by the anticipation of God’s faithfulness.
Before the celebration of Christmas – “God has come!” – Advent teaches us to wait: “God is coming.”
Advent Is a Discipline
As mentioned above, Advent (and the broader Christian calendar) is best seen as a discipline. Broadly speaking, Christian disciplines are practices or rhythms of life that make room for God to work on, in, with, and through us. Think of Advent as a time to exercise the spiritual muscles needed to faithfully and patiently wait on God. Advent is not the only time of the year we should practice anticipation, but it is when we work those muscles out so they can be used the rest of the year.
Is Advent “Scriptural”?
From the beginning, let me say that 8&H has acknowledged Advent for a long time. Each year when Mrs. Chris passes out the chocolate calendars on the last Sunday of November, she is passing out Advent calendars. Kids get one piece of chocolate each day – and only one when done right – leading up to Christmas. This is a way of practicing patience and building anticipation. So, Advent is nothing new to us.
But, is it Scriptural? I think that is a good and fair question, but we also need to be careful about what we mean when we ask it. If by “scriptural” we mean, “Is there an explicit command in the Bible binding the discipline of Advent on us?” the answer is no. But, we need to ask if this is the most faithful and helpful way of thinking about something being “scriptural.”
The New Testament commonly prescribes a general principle of practice and allows us the freedom to decide how that will be worked out in its details. Let me give you two examples.
First, the Bible asks us to practice hospitality, but we all understand that particular expressions of hospitality will differ depending on culture and circumstance. The principle is there, but we must go beyond the command to discern what faithfulness to that command will look like in our lives. The practice of taking guests from church to the Longhorn Cattle Company for lunch is not commanded in the Bible, but it is scriptural.
Second, it is obvious from Scripture that we ought to know and study our Bibles. That is an obligation. However, in fulfilling that obligation, faithful communities of God’s people have always needed to work out what that looks like. We have developed a common set of tools for fulfilling this obligation: Sunday School, Wednesday Night Bible Study, Ladies’ Bible Study, daily Bible reading, etc. Not one of these individual practices is explicitly commanded in the New Testament. In fact, it was not too long ago our cherished practice of daily, private Bible study would have been impossible because there were no personal copies of the Bible. Faithful Christians in those situations needed to find other ways to be obedient to that obligation.
Advent is scriptural in the same way that taking people out to lunch or going to Sunday School is scriptural. It is not explicitly commanded in the Bible, but it is a way of working out things that we are obligated to. We can’t bind the practice of Advent on people as a matter of doctrine – as a “salvation issue” – and I don’t know anyone (in our context) who wants to do that. However, we can point to the wisdom of practicing this discipline that has helped shape Christians deeply for centuries and invite others to come on the journey.