01 December 2012

Advent 2012

When I was a chorister, I felt that one of the really cool things about singing in church was that I could practice Christmas music through-out Advent. That feature alone made Advent my favorite season.

I came to treasure some Advent music. "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel," and "Lift Up Your Head Ye Mighty Gates" remain favorites to this day. Advent grows on a person.

Advent is also the season of some really, really(!) bad preaching. Sermons condemning the preparation, shopping, gift angst, and the use of Christmas music in stores, pour cold water on the warmth and enthusiasm of the season. They offer instead some sort of sad faced, "spirituality" that harms not only Advent but also Christmas. Spirituality should be joyful -- ask any Benedictine.

Even worse is the smug preaching in ultra-Calvinist churches explaining why they are too holy to celebrate Christmas. Puritans, like the poor it seems, are always with us.

We Episcopalians and some of our Lutheran friends have changed our liturgical schema so that the color on the altar is blue, replacing purple. Purple is the color of regret, repentance and mourning. In the middle ages when much of Christianity became muddled, it became the Advent color. This was because of a need to purge ones' self from sin to be "holy enough" to welcome Jesus. Advent became impossible: how holy can we become?

Blue is the liturgical color of anticipation. Zacchaeus did not become holy to welcome Jesus. In fact we have no text to suggest he ever was holier than before, albeit Christians think encountering Jesus always has an impact. Jesus does not expect us to be holy when he comes. We learn holiness during his visit. That visit can be literal as it was for Zacchaeus, or spiritual as it is for us in the holy meal, the Eucharist.

Anticipation, excited, and joyous welcoming: that we can do. Becoming holy is out of our reach. Calling Jesus to us, that is within our grasp. Being holy enough to merit a visit is beyond us all, even the Puritans.

I read somewhere long ago that the ethic of the Puritan is based on a visceral fear that somewhere, someone for some reason, is happy. It is that fear that we need to rise above durring Advent. Sing the carols, now and after 25 December. Give up being holy, you won't manage anyway. Try not to render judgments. Instead, spend time being loving. Share the anticipation of a child decorating a tree, or coloring a picture of Santa.

Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel.

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