Advent is Not Christmas, Part I
This is part one of a two part series. To read part two click here.
I have a pet peeve. Actually, I have several. This one has to do with the way that many churches do Advent, that is, as an extended time of Christmas. Their focus is on the first Advent of Christ, and the time is spent covering the biblical material leading up to his birth. Christmas carols and hymns are sung from the first Sunday of Advent onward and there is no distinctive Christmas season. In other words, Advent is Christmas.
There is just one problem. Advent is not Christmas.
Before I get any further I need to make several disclaimers. First, the purpose of this essay is not to shame anyone or call anyone out. I’ve observed this practice enough to not have any one particular church in mind. In fact, the church I attended this week on the First Sunday of Advent did it correctly. So, I’m not calling anyone out in particular and neither do I have any recent experience in mind. Second, my goal is not to cause anyone to feel ashamed or to cause any immediate, drastic changes in your church. My purpose is to educate and train. The church year is a secondary (or even tertiary) matter, and there’s no reason to go to war over how anyone does the church year (or doesn’t).
That said, if we are going to do the church year, I think that it ought to be grounded in what the Scripture teaches and what the church has observed over the centuries, and that as Reformed Christians we ought to have a good rationale and purpose for doing it.
In this essay, part one of two, I will cover the broader biblical and historical aspects and then in part two I will get into the nitty gritty of why Advent is not Christmas (and why that matters).
The Church Year is Grounded in God’s Word
The church year is not just a cool thing that trendy churches are now doing. While I think it’s good that all kinds of churches are getting in touch with the roots of historic Christianity, as we do that we need to understand what we are doing and why. Ancient does not necessarily equate to good and helpful, and we need to understand what unhelpful aspects may have developed in ancient practices so we can avoid them. When it comes to the church year, we are not just appropriating church tradition. It turns out that, as in many other things, the church’s tradition is grounded in God’s Word.