The Value of Advent

As I previously mentioned, it is now Advent, the first season of the liturgical year, which is the way that Xians divide time and orient it upon the story of Christ. In thinking further about this, I made a connection to Reinhold Niebuhr’ theological anthropology, in which humans are rendered as both the creators and creatures of history and culture.

It is of course arbitrary to divide time in any fashion, for nothing in the fabric of the universe demands that time be divided in any particular manner. Rather, each culture divides time according to their values and beliefs, which were derived from their own unique histories. Since this is so, dividing the year in a manner that is oriented upon the events of Christ’ life is a way that Christians express they are creators, for they impose an order upon the raw phenomena of time. Having done this, Christians then begin to observe the events of the liturgical year, and are thereby shaped in their process of becoming. In this way Christians are creatures, for they are influenced by something beyond themselves.

The creation story of Genesis affirms Niebuhr’ anthropology when God gave humans the command to have dominion over the earth. This is generally understood to be a mandate to cultivate the raw materials of nature so that all existence: plant, animal, human and otherwise can move toward higher levels of being. It appears that God has structured into the fabric of creation a principle of mutual submission: nature is subject to our will, we create, and what we create becomes a phenomenon that in some measure subdues (shapes and influences) us. This mutual submission is a reality that points to our existence as both creators and creatures.

It is my conviction that the liturgy of the Church, because it expresses the two poles of our existence, brings blessing to those who follow it. It allows Xians to exercise both dominion and submission, which I think are critical components of a healthy spirituality. Unfortunately, as I look at the current Protestant Church, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters don’t follow liturgical practices. I think this comes from a fear of formalism that is a historical vestige of the time when Roman Catholic practices became corrupt, which eventually led to the Reformation. As has been observed by many before me, the baby was thrown out with the bath water.

Why I am writing all of this, I am not sure. Perhaps it is to justify my religious practices, or maybe it is to challenge my more informal brothers and sisters to consider how liturgical practices might enhance their worship and spiritual formation. Either way, I wanted to share some insight and hopefully words of exhortation.

3 Responses to “The Value of Advent”

  1. ROG  

    Went to children’s ed a couple weeks ago with Lydia. The teacher was showing (in puzzle format, no less) how the Xian year works, from Advent to Advent, in a great circle.

    This may be arcane, but does your place of worship attribute colors to the church season? For us (Presbyterian), Lent is purple, Pentecost is red, Christmas and Easter are white. Advent’s now blue to distinguish it from Lent. The “ordinary time” is green. (It’s not easy being green. Or Green.)

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Yes we do, and it looks like it is the same colors you Presbies use. On a somewhat related note, I have a Book of Common Worship, which is the prayer book that used to order the worship service of Presbyterians. This is to say that Presbyterians used to be quite liturgical, and I am sure some still are. I once read that if John Calvin had his way the churches of Geneva would have had weekly communion, and that this conviction was carried by John Knox to Scotland. If any of this stuff interests you, I suggest a book titled, Worship is a Verb, written by Robert Webber, who was a theologian and a kind of worship consultant for Protestant churches who were interested in exploring ways to integrate more liturgical (and historic) forms of worship into their existing forms.

  3. Anthony Velez  

    Oh, and I want to affirm you and Kermit by also saying that it is not easy being green (ordinary time, the time of the Church) and yet it is worth the hardship.