I am not really big on liturgical colors or really anything connected to the High liturgical traditions. I take the viewpoint that all too often ceremony and ritual draw people away from faithfulness more then towards it because people become far more interested in correctness than faithfulness. Obviously, I am not as fervent as he was, as I often will use liturgical tools as part of worship but never to the point where they become the driving force of worship.
In the late eighties and early nineties, as the secular world began to expand the Christmas season, picking up on trends like Black Friday and pushing the season longer, churches responded with a resurgence and refocus on Advent. Unfortunately, in some churches pastors took this to an almost ascetic extreme, barring any talk or discussion of Christmas during the Advent season.
I remember a debate early in my ministry with another pastor on the issue. She was almost in tears because of her conviction that we lessened the meaning of Christmas by celebrating it too early. I really understood where she was coming from, especially with the realization that the Christmas many people celebrate has very little to do with the Christmas message.
At the Gathering last week we talked about this a little bit, pointing out that if we listened to the culture, Christmas is all about getting whatever you want, namely new toys, jewelry, clothes, etc. If it were not so sad, it would be kind of funny that we have taken a holy day that is really about giving up things of this world to welcome the Christ Child into something that is about acquiring more things in this world. So we can understand wanting to make the church a respite from a world that has taken one message and made it something completely different. And in many Presbyterian Churches, as well as others, you won’t find a lot of Christmas things around until Christmas Eve.
As you may have seen and read, I do not go so far as to exclude Christmas from the bulk of the Advent season. In fact, I embrace Christmas as an integral part of the Advent season with a very important distinction: that the Advent we celebrate incorporates the fact that Christ has already come, and now we are called to prepare for the next coming. This means that we are called to outwardly give thanks, but inwardly reflect on how we are being true and faithful to God.
So I utilize Advent in the same way as Lent to set a side a few weeks out of the year to emphasize something we should be doing year round and asking ourselves what we are really doing with this gift from God. As a tool of faith, I find it very helpful when not taken in the extreme, where its own asceticism becomes a barrier in its own right.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen