Monday, December 18, 2006

On Advent

[The following is a beautifully written article about the season of Advent, penned by my very dear friend, the venerable Reverend Father Joe DeHart, rector of St. Mary's Anglican Catholic Church in Akron, Ohio. From The Angelus, December 2006. Used with kind permission (thank you, Fr. DeHart!). Any typos are my own. - Fr. Hollywood]

The Season of Advent

"Advent" literally means coming. Advent is a season that may be described as a period of nervous or anxious expectation. Yes, we yearn to finally see our Lord coming in great Glory, no, we are not prepared, ready for His arrival. The lessons of Advent can be somewhat confusing. At times the lessons refer to the First Advent which was accomplished at the Incarnation two thousand years ago and other lessons describe events that have yet to be accomplished during the coming Second Advent. Advent is similar to Lent in some aspects, but it should not be confused with the spirit of Lent. Advent is in many instances a sort of frenzied period of preparation.

One of the saddest occurences that has transpired during the last century or two in the liturgical life of the Church is that secularization that has all but smothered out the season of Advent! Today, a family who attempts to keep a faithful will almost certainly be viewed by most as some sort of religious fanatics. Advent is not Christmas! Christmas is a totally different season that can not be fully appreciated unless Advent is first rightly observed. Christmas themes are now appearing in ads in early October, Thanksgiving Day is losing its grip as the unofficial launch day. The merchandisers are certainly experiencing nervous expectation during what is supposed to be Advent, so are Wall Street, manufacturers, banks, and millions of shoppers attempting to fulfill their ritual of nervous expectancy. Retail establishments of every sort are piping out the vague, bouncy and benign so-called Christmas music chosen on the sole basis that it offends no one and ends up offending about everyone. The Holy Season of Advent is all but invisible; Christmas trees are often erected and decorated on Thanksgiving Eve, not Christmas Eve.

The spirit of Christmas can only be a secular spirit, if the preceding season of preparation is reduced to shopping, spending more than we should, speanding time at office and other parties with many whom we share little or nothing in common.

The real danger for a Christian however, is that the focus on preparation for the great feast of the Nativity is nullified by the shallow frenzied preparation offered up by the world of giving and getting material things.

When we take a moment and reflect, is it any wonder that the secular celebration of the Nativity today lasts from approximately 8 a.m. December 25th to about noon on the same date? What a contrast to the celebrations offered by the historic Church. The period of Advent for a Christian is a time to take personal stock of ourselves, to step back a few feet and look at ourselves in the Gospel mirror.

Let us for a moment reflect on St. Paul's words that address this preparation from his epistle appointed for Advent Sunday: Paul begins by admonishing us to rid ourselves of debt, both monetary and obligatory; a sharp contrast to the secular spirit of the season. Paul then expounds that we are to keep the Commandments and love one another in the Lord. Then the apostle nearly shouts: "Wake up! Snap out of it! The night is far spent!" No matter what our personal views are regarding the time of the Second Coming, we can be sure the time of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed! Be ready, exclaims Paul, and all of Scripture supports him! Put off the works of darkness; do not sit around and whine that you can not, that you do not have the strength! Nonsense, shouts Paul! Put on the armor of light! Put on the Lord Jesus Christ! And he ends with the sharpest contrast and condemnation of the present spirit of the age with these words: "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof!" He is not, incidentally, addressing only sexual lusts, but all lusting after things in place of seeking after God!

In former times during Advent, the organ was kept silent in church except on the third Sunday. Beginning on the 17th of December, the greater antiphons, commonly known as the "Great O's" were chanted daily until the 23rd. The hymn "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is a most beautiful rendition of that former practice.

The keeping of a Holy Advent did not mean a period of busy shopping days and social gatherings, but a time of guardedly hopeful expectation and preparation. A time of spiritual housecleaning, preparing our souls for the meeting and reception of the very Son of God!

This soul searching and cleansing produced outward manifestations. The church buildings and grounds were put into good order, special foods were prepared in advance, the geese, or other fowl were being fattened up, greens were gathered in the preparation for the "greening" of the homes and church on Christmas Eve. Firewood was cut up in advance in order that everyone might be able to fully celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, all twelve days of it, ending only on the Epiphany, January 6th.

The tree was picked out for setting up and decorating on Christmas Eve and not to be taken down until the Epiphany. Every Day was Christmas, all twelve of the days beginning December 25the and ending on Epiphany. Christmas was truly something to celebrate, not because of gift giving and getting, though that practice is certainly appropriate, but because Christian souls had prepared themselves for the meeting of the very Incarnate Son of the living and true God! When the church bells sounded, the spirit of expectation had reached a crescendo, as robust prepared souls sang and offered up their praises and thanksgivings for the inestimable gift of their infant King! If all this sounds a bit over-romantic and nostalgic, I would counter that this only shows how far most of our society have departed into secular religion and harbor, no doubt, religion that is albeit false!

The abolishment of Advent is the abolishment of preparation, the abolishment of preparation is the abolishment of salvation! This spirit is behind the downplaying of seasons such as Advent and Lent, or changing their penitential focus into something colorful and benign. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." Christian practice today, even amongst many very conservative Christians, seems to offer this response to our Lord's command: "No, Lord, you take up your cross and then we will follow you."

Let us together with our families, friends, and all who are truly close to us, keep a Holy and expectant Advent! And may the Holy Spirit guard and keep us in ever Communion with our Lord Jesus Christ to the glory of the Father. Amen!

1 comment:

Whey Lay said...

Thanks for this, it's an excellent observation of our times and general viewpoints on the church seasons, which is the one that should matter most to us.
More over I did some surfing on Anglicanism and the AAC in particular and found that there is a congregation relatively close to me. I plan on visiting them to observe a trad Anglican service sometime soon.