Archive for December 8th, 2009

Advent II: A Modest Proposal

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

My church adult class on 1 Corinthians was at chapter 10 on Sunday, which happened also to be the second Sunday in Advent and communion Sunday (yes, we are one of those impoverished churches that still only eats from the hand of God’s grace and remembers the cross monthly, despite the pleadings of our forbear Wesley—but back to my main point).

The text is Paul’s warning to the cocky Corinthians not to fall into (or stay in) idolatry and thus risk their salvation, as in fact the Israelites who built the golden calf did. Why? Because participation in the Lord’s supper must be an exclusive fellowship that does not permit communing with other, so-called deities, since such deities are in fact demonic, opposed to the one God.

We had begun with some reflection about the lack of a proper Advent in the West, both in general and in particular as a season of repentance. We talked briefly about the difference between both joy and repentance and “holiday frolicking.” All of this was in response to some words from William Stringfellow, found in the book Watch for the Light. Two of his paragraphs follow:

We live now, in the United States, in a culture so profoundly pagan that Advent is no longer really noticed, much lass observed. The commercial acceleration of seasons, whereby the promotion of Christmas begins even before there is an opportunity to enjoy Halloween, is, superficially, a reason for the vanishment of Advent. But a more significant cause is that the churches have become so utterly secularized that they no longer remember the topic of Advent….

For all the greeting card and sermonic rhetoric, I do not think that much rejoicing happens around Christmastime, least of all about the coming of the Lord. There is, I notice, a lot of holiday frolicking, but that is not the same as rejoicing. In any case, maybe outbursts of either frolicking or rejoicing are premature, if John the Baptist has credibility. He identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent. And… that seems to be ratified by Jesus himself.

The discussion of 1 Corinthians 10 eventually merged with Stringfellow and turned to how communion/the Eucharist ought to help us identify and exclude our idolatries (deep stuff, to be sure), especially in the season of Advent understood as a time of repentance. To cut to the chase, I raised the question, “Has the the celebration of Christmas in this country become idolatrous?” The previous discussion had been so rich that the following discussion was, too—not a trite, old lament about the commercialization of Christmas but a profound theological analysis and discussion of possible alternatives.

One modest proposal that was mentioned was for the church to consider (a) giving more gifts (animals, wells, etc.) on behalf of others through World Vision, the Heifer Project, Habitat, etc. and (b) switching the day on which we exchange (fewer!) gifts. Many people have already begun doing (a), but (b) would be more of a challenge, to be sure.

It would not, however, be without precedent. December 6 (Feast of St. Nicholas) and January 6 (Epiphany/Feast of the Magi) are already gift-giving days in other cultures. Could we Christians in the West move in one of those directions as a direct attack on Christmas as it is currently celebrated?

In the past I’ve suggested moving the entire celebration of Christ’s birth out of December, but that would really mess up the liturgical year and 16oo years of church tradition, neither of which is very appealing or pragmatic. But reducing and moving our gift-giving may be both. What to you think?


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