According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, December 3, 2012

Celebrating Advent, It's Timeless Meaning and Discovery


People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived,
reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone- Anon
Advent season begins each year on the fourth Sunday before December 25. By its name "advent" means coming and refers to Christ's first coming (or First Advent) as the baby Jesus beheld by the church as God in Incarnate Deity. Advent then progresses towards Lent and Easter where Jesus becomes man's atoning sacrifice for our sins and God's sealing promise of redemption to all repentant through His resurrection.
Jesus' Second Advent (known as His Second Coming) will be at a day and an hour that no man knows when He shall return to rule and reign to establish His Kingdom among men. Until that time we live within the tension of the already/not yet (known as the upside-down Kingdom) empowered by the Holy Spirit to testify of Christ Jesus' redemption by hearts and tongues, through deeds and acts, until He returns in final deliverance and completing redemptive promise.

As such, Advent is held during the Christmas season and is similar to a mnemonic practice placed into the Christian liturgy of annualized observance and worship. It began in the early church under the Church Fathers and has progressed into a rich tapestry of Christian interpretative religious practice found throughout the branches of Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Scandinavian, German, Dutch, Latino, Hispanic, and and American churches, to name but a few.

Accordingly, each Christian faith has appealed to the Christmas story of the Gospel of Jesus in some manner to appropriate some element of faith, or practice of belief, that has become meaningful to the journey of the follower of Christ by liturgical observance or confessional creed, by hallowed deed or truant prayer. Why? To reflect the deeper meaning of Christ's birth and the preparedness of the God's people Israel for His coming (as evidenced by John the Baptist's parents found in Luke 1) to the long-awaited divine event of salvation that led to Jesus' Cross of Atonement and the empowerment of the Church for ministry in place of His abstinence (Acts 1-3). Hence, on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Christ's resurrection, came God's Holy Spirit to empower the Church to bear witness to Jesus' life, passion, death and resurrection until He returns in His Second Advent to rule and to reign as King and Lord over a new heavens and new earth (Rev 1-18; specifically, Rev 19-22).
Until that time, the church is to minister to all men everywhere - to reclaim faith to the lost; to help in works of grace and salutation; to seek a living faith that is found in the substance of works and deeds and not simply on the lips of merciless hearts and faithless men; to refuse sinful temptations; to deny the idolatrous practices of fleshly worship (as found in the extremes of self-denial on the one hand, and the excesses of hedonism on the other); to bind the wounds of the heart and body; to care for the needs of the sick, the dying, the impoverished, and despised; to preach a gospel of love and good will, peace and assurance that are founded on the promises and testimonies of God in both the Old and New Testaments. These are but some of the ministries of the church until Christ returns again.

Into the rich traditions of the Church has come the integration of the Jewish-Christian calendars of observance to the liturgical practices and observations of Christian churches. But rather than refuse our Jewish brethren's desire to behold their Lord and Savior within their own Jewish Calendar year (which is unlike the Gentile/Julian Calendar (*sic the Roman calendar we use today) of Advent-Lent-Easter), the orthodox Church is learning to embrace and appreciate its earlier Jewish roots that may enliven previously set practices and traditions perhaps become historically mundane or exhausted. Originally, because of its nearness to both time and location of the Middle East, the early Church followed the Hebrew calendar until it grew beyond its Jewishness into the Gentile practices of the Romans and then worldwide.

To God, the Christian practice of faith is transcultural, transnational, and transtemporal.  That is, Christianity does not need to be centralized within one cultural distinctive or another. It was ever meant to be global. To be all, and one, and more, as the nations worshipped God with one another. That is, there is no religious advantage (or biblical advantage) of worshipping God as a Jew or as a Gentile where all are one in Christ Jesus. True, Judaism has the advantage of prior OT customs and traditions, but as we know from reading the OT, they were little observed and oftentimes were desecrated by Israel in continuing cycles of failure and judgment. As well, were the early Church customs initially based in Jewish traditions but over time leavened out within the customs and traditions of other lands and cultures. But the gospel of Jesus allows this. Jesus saw it coming when speaking of wineskins, mustard seeds, and mountains. That all would change in Him.

Thus, the church is at liberty to revision and repurpose its faith in Jesus through a variety of worship styles, liturgies, calendars, practices of austerity or non-austerity (such is found at Lent), and on and on. It may adapt previous pagan practices and customs by Christianizing them (as we do in America with the idea of Christmas; or the Druids did in England; or the Scandinavians did with their Norse Mythologies). Or the church may backfill Jewish traditions within its practices where it might make sense to the land and people (sic, perhaps mid-Eastern cultures, for instance). These adaptations are allowable according to the Apostle Paul who preached the freedom of faith observance everywhere. Or the church may use some combination of the above. But whether by Jesus or by Paul, the church was understood to be free to create - that there is no wrong way to worship God nor His blessings of redemption. That all is sanctified in Christ Jesus.

And so, with the idea of "more" in mind, we are free in Christ to set forth any kind of Christianized version that comes to our hearts and souls. Ideally, it would hearken back to Scriptural precedent... but in hindsight, the only precedent the early church had in the New Testament was that of its Jewish precursors. Consequently, just as new wine requires new wineskins, so the Gospel of Jesus is free to transform and develop into variant traditions and customs meaningful to the receiving people group. Be it Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Indonesian, South Pacific or Korean, Muslim and African, or even within polyglot nations like America. The Gospel is wide enough - and deep enough - to embrace all the customs and traditions of mankind.

It is but left to us to root those same customs and traditions into the understanding of God's grace and redemption, and not necessarily towards the Jewish customs of the time (for they too were ever rooted in the grace and redemption of the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth!). This is the freedom that the Gospel brings with it. That the faith of Jesus can be trans-national, trans-cultural, and even trans-temporal, by which is meant "from age-to-age ever the same but ever changing, transforming, renewing, and enlivening." ... Not surprisingly, the gospel of Jesus does that you know.

As such, we might chose topics of hope, peace, joy, and love as pictured in the Advent candles of Christmas-time by some faiths. Or, we might seek releasing forms of worship, prayer, assembly and enactment together as practiced by other faiths. Or, we might take aspects of Jesus' life that epitomize His grace, mercy, ministry and sacrifice. As can be seen, there are many ways to regard this season of Advent. It may be in the spirit of Christmas which observes the spirit of our Lord wrapped around gifts of generosity, thoughtfulness, good will, and humor with one another. Or through the simple symbols of Santa Claus, elves, reindeer, Christmas trees, bright and coloured lights, singing and charitable giving.

It is a powerful statement that Christ Jesus has touched all things human - from our holidays, to our community life, to our governance with one another. There is no such thing as either secular or sacred in Christ. In God all are one lest we become too religious for our own good, and that of the world around us, whom we as Christians of faith should be ministering to and reaching out to. To debate a Christianized form of Christmas by saying we observe only its Advent form is to make a finer distinction that seems to be unwarranted within the spirit of the gospel (and of the Bible itself as we've shown). And perhaps in the statement discover its only appeal is to that of our flesh, our religious pride, and spirit of human insolence (for isn't the base of sin man's pride of legalism and refusal of Jesus' atoning provision?).

Consequently, every church is free to imagine its own customs and traditions according to its corresponding beliefs in the bible and of God Himself. And it is to this point that we would all do well to appreciate all the customs and traditions of the church, and in doing so learn to appreciate from one another the global beauty of this time of year. Be it in the form of the spirit of Christmas or of that of the Church's Advent observance. Much can be gained when listening to one another. This is the beauty of the gospel. Herein in wisdom.

However, the rhymes and rhythms of this holiday season can never be more poignantly expressed than through the opening lines of this article. That, "People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone." When centering on Jesus we soon discover that He centers all things in our lives around the Story of His birth, life, witness, and sacrifice. That it becomes our larger story of faith relinquishing us from ourselves and from life's haughty demands. That the essence of Christ's First Advent is found in the ideas of restoration to God, renewal in God, revival through God, reclamation by God, and redemption because of God. In all things is God our Redeemer. Our Savior. Our Immanuel come to bring eternal life that begins in our here-and-now. Not later. But today. Reveal in Christ's birth. It was for this reason He came.
And because Advent is a time of restoration, renewal, revival, reclamation, and redemption, we now know that it's time has come to us today. Not simply during the Advent season of Christmas, nor that of Lent and Easter, but each and every day of our living faith. This is the great, good joy of our Christian celebration. It is Jesus who is our own advent, epiphany, second coming, and Lord. No wonder the angels sang, and the shepherds rang out the bells on Christmas morn to one and all.

Ring out the Bells!
Ring out the Bells!
Let them Peal,
To One and All!
Sing Out in Hail,
Sing Out in Fellowship!
In Wonder and Awe,
In Beauty and Grace!
The Christ Child Comes,
Christ Comes this Day!

 ...And He has Come to the Heart of every man and woman and child in the swaddling cloths of divine humility and glorified grace. May God's peace be with you this day, as on every advent day of this coming new year. Amen.
R.E. Slater
December 3, 2012

(click to enlarge any picture)
Sampling Advent Customs & Traditions
The Christian Liturgical Calendar - Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Christians, and traditional Protestant communities frame worship around a liturgical calendar. This includes holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or the saints, periods of fasting such as Lent, and other pious events such as memoria or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. A few churches make no use of a liturgical calendar. - Wikipedia
Catholic Understanding of Advent -
Antiochian (Eastern) Orthodoxy Customs -
Greek Orthodoxy Calendar -
German Observance of Advent -
Reformed Church of America -
Christian Reformed Advent Devotionals -

The Hebrew Calendar -
Jewish Calendar (complete) -
Jewish Holidays Cheat Sheet (to understanding all things Jewish) -

Comparison of Church Liturgical Calendars




The Jewish Calendar

Hebrew Yr 5773
Rosh HashanaSep 17-18, 2012The Jewish New Year
Yom KippurSep 26, 2012Day of Atonement
SukkotOct 1-2, 2012
Oct 3-7, 2012
Feast of Tabernacles
Shmini AtzeretOct 8, 2012Eighth Day of Assembly
Simchat TorahOct 9, 2012Day of Celebrating the Torah
ChanukahDec 9-16, 2012The Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the Festival of Lights
PurimFeb 24, 2013Purim is one of the most joyous and fun holidays on the Jewish calendar
PesachMar 26-27, 2013
Mar 28-31, 2013
Apr 1-2, 2013
Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread
ShavuotMay 15-16, 2013Festival of Weeks, commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai
Tish'a B'AvJul 16, 2013The Ninth of Av, fast commemorating the destruction of the two Temples

The Origins of Advent
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
In the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches of the West, the several weeks prior to Christmas are known as Advent, a name from a Latin word meaning "coming." It happens that the beginning of Advent always falls on the Sunday closest to November 30, the ancient feast day (in both East and West) of the Apostle Andrew. Among Christians in the West, this preparatory season, which tends to be slightly less rigorous than Lent and often involves no special fasting at all, always begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Thus, from year to year it will vary in length between 3 and 4 weeks, but always with four Sundays.
The observance of the season of Advent is fairly late. One finds no sermons for Advent, for instance, among the liturgical homilies of St. Leo the Great in the mid-fifth century. About that time, however, the season was already emerging in Spain and Gaul. A thousand years later, the time of the Reformation, Advent was preserved among the liturgical customs of the Anglicans and Lutherans; in more recent years, other Protestant groups have informally begun to restore it, pretty much as it had originally started--one congregation at a time.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the corresponding penitential season of preparation for Christmas always begins on November 15, the day after the Feast of the Apostle Philip. For this reason it is popularly known as St. Philip's Fast. A simple count of the days between November 15 and December 25 shows that this special period lasts exactly 40 days, the same as Lent.
More recently Christians of the Orthodox Church have begun to call this season by its Latin name, "Advent." One now finds the term standard in publications of the Antiochian Archdiocese, for instance. The adoption of the word "Advent" by Eastern Orthodox Christians is inspired by the same reason that prompted the adoption of other Latin theological terms, such "Sacraments," "Incarnation," and "Trinity." Very simply, these are the recognizable theological terms that have passed into Western languages. They also happen to be theologically accurate! If the Christian West can adopt Greek terms like "Christology," it seems only fair for the Christian East to adopt Latin terms like "Incarnation."
(On the other hand, one finds some Orthodox Christians, especially among recent, hyperactive converts from Western churches, who resist the adoption of the word "Advent," preferring to speak of "Winter Lent" or some such anomaly. One is hard pressed to explain this eccentric, lamentable preference for Anglo-Saxon over Latin on a point of theology.)
Several other features of Advent deserve some comment:
  • First, in the West the First Sunday of Advent is treated as the beginning of the liturgical year. (In the East, the liturgical year does not begin with Advent but on September 1, which bears the traditional title, "Crown of the Year." Its historical relationship to the Jewish feast of Rosh Hashana is obvious.)
  • Second, during the twentieth century there arose the lovely custom of the Advent wreath, both in church buildings and in homes. This wreath lies horizontal and is adorned with four candles. The latter, (symbolic of the four millennia covered in Old Testament history), are lit, one at a time, on each Saturday evening preceding the four Sundays of Advent, by way of marking the stages in the season until Christmas. This modern practice has already started in some Orthodox Christian homes, where the longer season requires six candles on the Advent wreath.
  • Third, because of its emphasis on repentance, Advent is a season of great seriousness, not a time proper for festivity, much less of partying and secular concerns. Advent is not part of the Christmas holidays, and Christians of earlier times would be shocked at the current habit of treating this as a period of jolly good times and "Christmas cheer," complete with office parties, the trimming of Christmas trees and other domestic adornments, the exchange of gifts, caroling, and even the singing of Christmas music in church.
All of these festive things are part of the celebration of Christmas itself, which lasts the 12 days from December 25 to January 6.
The seasons of the liturgical year involve more than liturgical services. The liturgical seasons is supposed to govern the lives of those who observe them. For this reason, anticipating these properly Christmas activities during Advent considerably lessens the chance of our being properly prepared, by repentance, for the grace of that greater season; it also heightens the likelihood that we will fall prey to the worldly spirit that the commercial world would encourage during this time.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.


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