Truth Matters Newsletters – December 2009 – Vol. 14 Issue 12 – Another View of Christmas – By Rev. Robert Liichow
Discernment Ministries International
Another View of Christmas
By Rev. Robert Liichow
The following comments are drawn from the following website: http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/InTemporibus/Adventus.html. The bold type and underlining were added for emphasis.
The word Advent comes from the Latin words, ad venire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. The Advent season is a time of joyful expectation and preparation for Christmas, the day upon hich Christ’s birth is celebrated and His first coming into this world. The focus of Advent is upon the centuries of waiting and preparation by God’s chosen people which preceded the coming of the Messiah. As such, it is a time marked by expectation, hope, preparedness and penance. The later being mindful of John the Baptist’s cry to prepare for the coming of the Lord with repentance. (see Matt. 3:3, 11:10, Mark 1:2-3; Luke 1:17, 1:76, 3:4).
Also, while Advent is the season before Christmas, the focus of Advent is by no means limited to just Christ’s first coming. An equal, if not more important, theme found in the Advent Liturgy is the Second Coming of Christ when He comes again to judge the world. The Advent Liturgy looks to both the past and future. In the past Christ came amongst us as one of our own. He was born of a woman into this world and of humble means. In the future He will come again, not as a defenseless infant, but as the Judge of all the living and the dead. Thus the Liturgy looks back over thousands of years to when the human race waited for its Redeemer and then to the future when this world will end and He will come then as our Judge. This dual theme, the first and second coming, is easily observed in the hymns for Advent given below. Also, while it is not part of the Advent Liturgy today, it is useful to note that Dies Irae was originally not a hymn associated with death and burial, but a hymn that was composed as a sequence for the first Sunday in Advent. Its sober tone was designed to remind us of both Christ’s first coming and His Second Coming at the end of the world.
It is difficult to pinpoint in time exactly when Advent was first celebrated by the Church. Advent itself is the season prior to Christmas and is thus intimately acquainted with the celebration of Christ’s birth. Since the celebration of Christ’s birth has evolved over time, so too has the season of Advent. The earliest documentation we have on the season comes to us from the fourth century and the earliest Advent hymns we have come from roughly that period as well (Prudentius.
By the late sixth century the season is well established at least in the Latin West. St. Caesarius, Bishop of Aries (502-542) mentions a time of preparation before the celebration of Christ’s birth in his homilies. A sermon given by Pope St. Gregory the Great on the Second Sunday of Advent has come down to us as well. Advent was evidentially a western tradition before it became an eastern tradition. It is not until the eighth century that we have the first record of the season being celebrated in the East.
In as much as Advent is the season of preparation it is very much a time of penance. It is regrettable today that the penitential dimension to Advent seems to have been largely forgotten by many Christians. Today, Christmas decorations go up after Thanksgiving (if not before) and Christmas parties begin shortly thereafter. Penance and the word Advent seem to have become an oxymoron in today’s holiday rush. It has not always been so and this is really a relatively recent development of the 20th century. As almost anyone born early in the 20th century will tell you, Christmas decoration and parties were generally limited to just that, the Christmas season. The decorations did not come up until Christmas Eve and then stayed up for the entire Christmas season which lasts for 12 days, from Christmas to Epiphany. Parties started after Christmas, not before. The popular song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, echoes some of this traditional mode of celebration. Today I is not uncommon to see Christmas trees readied for trash pickup the next day and the only Christmas season party is the one held on New Year’s Eve, which is hardly a Christ-centered celebration.
In as much as Advent is a penitential season and fasting is invariably a part of traditional penitential disciplines which date back to the Old Testament, fasting has been a part of Advent from very early times. It is regrettable that the point of fasting is often forgotten these days. Fasting has a twofold objective. By abstaining from a legitimate pleasure of some sort, one is strengthening on’s self control in preparation for the day in which serious temptation may have to be faced. Fasting is push-ups for the will, so to speak. Secondly, in choosing food as the item to abstain from money is saved that otherwise would have been spent on more expensive foods. Such savings were intended to go to the poor as alms. Thus the penitential fast of Advent was used as a method by the Christian community to save up resources that would be used for works of charity during Advent and especially during the Christmas season.
It is sort of funny when you hear the phrase “Keep Christ in Christmas” bandied about by evangelical believers decrying the current state of our holiday when you know the true history of Advent and Christmas as taught and practiced by the early Christians.
The vast majority of practices taking place in congregations all over America and much of the world have absolutely nothing to do with the original meaning of Christmas — a penitential season of increased prayer, church attendance and personal reflection with fasting. Try selling American Christians (especially our youth) on the concept of mourning our shortcomings while eagerly looking for the promised rescue from despair by the coming Messiah. Or how about fasting some of those gluttonous meals we engorge ourselves with. How about putting all the money for the decorations and special foods (much of which gets wasted) aside to give to the poor?
Bah-humbug brother Bob! God will not love me any more or any less if I celebrate Christmas all month long in true American Evangelical fashion! You are right! However, Advent is not about afflicting your soul so as to impress God with your piety (if it is, then all your efforts are in vain). It is not about trying to get God to love you more. It is about making room in your heart to love Him more by confessing and forsaking things that have been weighing us down (see Heb. 12:1).
I am all for “keeping Christ in Christmas” and maybe if we, the Church, had not joined the maddening herd in their rush to spend money they do not have to buy things that are often unwanted or unneeded by the recipient — our testimony before the world as followers of Jesus might be more powerful. So do not be offended when the clerk is forced to say “happy holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” because that store and any other shop have nothing to do with the true meaning of Advent of Jesus Christ. I do not expect the world to know how to behave in the light of such a glorious truth —holy God coming as a sinless man to save ungrateful sinners from a well deserved eternity in hell. The world does not acknowledge Christ so why should it acknowledge His birthday? What is sad is that the Church too often acts just like the world and if we are not careful we too can be guilty of thinking of Jesus as an afterthought as opposed to the main event of the season!
Copyright 2009 Robert S. Liichow