Unpopular opinion: Churches work way too hard to keep Advent relevant. It’s symptomatic of the Church’s larger issues.
While dating back to at least the 4th or 5th century, Advent is a made up season of the Church in which Christians are to prepare for the birth of Jesus – a birth story that many Christian scholars now agree is, at the very least, not entirely historical.
The reality is, you don’t need to be a scholar to recognize many of the issues with the Christmas story. Many folks do and the Church’s dogmatic demand to keep Christmas literal, is one of the reasons they “lose their faith.”
There’s a simple solution for this, take more time to explore the birth narrative.
Traditionally, this would be done the weeks following Christmas day. However, now-a-days, most of Western society (where Advent was invented) has moved on from Christmas and has little interest in continuing looking at the birth narrative.
So, typically, the Church regulates the Christmas story to two days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (or the Sunday after Christmas). And let’s face it, on Christmas Eve, many churches are doing little more than conflating the two birth narratives and then telling the conflated story. (I know all of the churches where I have served have).
So, we hold tightly onto a made up “season,” all-the-while the rest of Western society is already participating in Christmas events, not Advent.
In response, the Church tries to sale Advent as a pushing back on the pre-Christmas celebrations, but in reality, Advent was around since the 4th or 5th century. So, no, it’s not push back against what I call “Consumeristmas.”
It’s a desperate attempt by the Church to hold tightly onto a dogmatic tradition that is not only long past its usefulness, but is a contributing factor to the demise of the Church.
What if, instead of hearing the same themes of Advent over and over again each season, we recognize and appreciate its usefulness in the past, but move on to something more contemporarily relevant?
Maybe something like exploring all the various lessons of the differing birth narratives along side of society who are already celebrating it?
The way I see it, that would be much more engaging and relevant to folks than the “pushing back against Christmas” of Advent. If anything, we should be excited about making such a change. Christmas has become a central story of the Christian faith, yet we relegate it to two days a year?
True story or not, there is a certain amount of joy, hope, peace, and love in it. Why not have more of that in our lives rather than having a season of waiting for these things? I certainly don’t find much about waiting on joy, hope, peace, and love in the teachings of Jesus. If anything, he’s all about practicing them in the here in now and part of his point is that we are fully capable of doing it – no need to wait for Jesus to be able to do it.
And, yes, those are typically the four themes of Advent, so it’d be an easy transition. Heck, we already have the liturgical banners for it! Eventually, you can also start exploring the other themes hiding in this wonderful little story. Themes like compassion, resistance, and equality.
The biggest thing that is stopping most ministers? Dogma and a fear of being “punished” in some manner for not buying into institutional expectations.
In my book, that is why working hard to keep Advent relevant is symptomatic of the Church’s larger issues. Letting Advent and the dogmatic adherence that goes along with it die, could very well be the beginning of saving the church.