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a new advent? – brett jones


Our church community pays some attention to a few seasons within the traditional liturgical calendar.  We’ve done Lent for many years and tend to do Epiphany as well with a New Year’s twist – a sort of mash up of religious and cultural “festivals”.  Oh and then there’s Easter and Christmas the high point for so many that seems to run from All Saints Eve (Halloween?) through to 25 December.  This feeling is only accentuated by spending some time recently in the US where the window dressing campaigns of the major department stores helpfully remind you which season you’re in and what festive fiscal response is required.  Imagine my surprise (irony alert) to return home to discover that Christmas is well and truly under way in November without the speed hump of American Thanksgiving to slow it down.  There are Santa Parades, Christmas events, Coke Cola sing-alongs that one or two get-along to and Christmas parties stacked higher than Santa’s sleigh.  Is our NZ downhill to Christmas contributed to by the fact that work is winding down for so many (or winding up depending on your industry) and whoever you are it’s nearly Christmas if only we could hold out for a few more weeks and days?  Christmas and the accompanying summer holidays have a magnetic pull on our priorities, our bank accounts and our time.

As Christmas in the culture arrives ever earlier, what are doing in the church?  Are we racing to Christmas with the same abandon and desperation?  Many churches are participating in the season of Advent as a part antidote to the Christmas slide.  It a time of slowing down, anticipating, finding a point of identification with the people of God who eagerly and patiently awaited their Messiah.  But there’s a problem.  A disconnect if you like.  It shouldn’t be a big surprise but every year for many churches it’s a surprise nonetheless.

Most people are too busy to do Advent!  They’ve already committed to the endless stream of Christmas parties, Christmas lists and Christmas preparations.  The idea of Advent lists (where stuff gets taken off) or Advent preparations (where we learn to wait) are squeezed out by the main attraction.  And as for Advent parties?  Well if they’re your Sunday services you may find yourself less full than you will on Christmas Day.  No one is actually around for the Advent journey.

Which argues some might say for a New Advent.  A Pre-Advent perhaps.  Is there a case for preaching schedules to respond to this challenge?  Is our addiction to consumer culture so pervasive that we will need target specific resources to enabling our communities of faith to grow as disciples of Christ in the very season that celebrates his announcement and birth?

Leslie Newbigen framed the issue this way:

“In a society which has exalted the autonomous individual as the supreme reality, we are accustomed to the rich variety offered on the supermarket shelves and to the freedom we have to choose our favorite brands. It is very natural that this mentality should pervade our view of religion. . . . It is a move that puts the self in the center of the universe. . . . It is the authentic product of a consumer society.”

Is it time to reshuffle the shelves?  Maybe we need to put the No back into November?!

P.S. Hope you’re not too busy to diarise this for next year…

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