Keeping Advent as a Counter-Cultural Practice: [Excerpts]
by the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty
St. Peter’s Anglican Church
“In the language of the secular world, the Holiday Season [is] marked by its central liturgical action — shopping. Any serious Christian who has been in a mall at this time of the year knows the strangeness of this experience: While Christmas Musak plays in the background, frantic [and often very un-merry] people go about the serious American pursuit of consumption. This is an important clue to what has happened to our culture: Christianity, real Christianity, has become a sort of background Muzak to what our culture regards as the real business of Christmas, the business of buying stuff. It may be Jesus’ birthday, but the throne in the mall is occupied by Santa.
. . . the problem is that the way many Christians keep Christmas shows that it is the Church that has been secularized. The worst thing about the way the Church keeps Christmas is that she has allowed her worship to be secularized and corrupted. Many churches and many Christians have allowed Christmas to become the fulcrum of their worship life and, in so doing, have allowed their worship life to become secularized and distorted. We easily forget that the center of Christian faith is not Christmas, but Easter; Christianity is centered in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. The Christian faith is centered not on a generalized feeling of holiday cheer and merry wishes, but around the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
. . . The Gospel asserts that our salvation comes not from the cultivation of good will, but from Jesus’ Death on the Cross and His Resurrection to New Life. When our worship life remains centered on Easter, we are able to see our identity as Christians truly: we are not primarily consumers or even Americans, but we are people who were buried with Christ in baptism and were raised with Christ through faith in the power of God [Colossians 2:12].
The secular world may have secularized Christmas, but our calling as Christians is to keep our focus on the Good News of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. We can do this by keeping the Season of Advent. While other people have embarked on a frenzy of buying and are trying to be cheerful for no other reason than that it is what you are supposed to do at this time of the year, we are invited to use this time as a period of reflection, meditation, worship and preparation. During this season, we remind ourselves that the most important thing is not what we will get on December 25, but the Lord to whom we give ourselves in love and worship. We should keep this season as a time of joyful expectation, not expectation of what will happen on December 25, but expectation of what will happen when Christ returns. We need to remind our children [and ourselves] that joy is not in the empty boxes of December 25, but in the empty tomb of Easter. By all means, celebrate Jesus’ birth. But remember that, without Good Friday, there would be nothing to celebrate.”