Timothy Paul Jones considers why Christians need to recover the “lost art of celebrating the waiting.”
Once upon a time, there was a season in the church year known as “Advent.” The word comes to us from the Latin for “coming.” The purpose of the season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting.
As early as the fourth century A.D., Christians fasted during this season and ended their fasts with celebrations either of the arrival of the wise men or of the baptism of Jesus. For many Christians today, the most familiar sign of Advent is the lighting of candles—two purple candles, followed by a pink and then another purple—on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
Advent has fallen on hard times, though. In the Protestant and free-church traditions, the loss is understandable, though no less lamentable; Baptists in particular tend to be quite suspicious of anything with origins in ancient or medieval tradition. When I instituted Advent celebrations as a pastor in a Baptist church, I was asked more times than I care to recall, “Don’t Catholics do that?”—as if that automatically prohibited us from considering such a practice.
Yet, even in congregations that more consciously echo the ancient rhythms of the church’s life, the meaning of Advent seems in danger of being misplaced. By the closing week of November, any sense of waiting has been eclipsed by the crèche in the lobby, the tannenbaum in the hall, and the list of Christmas parties in the church newsletter.
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