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
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Advent Season 2020 - The Process Christ of Advent's Being & Becoming




The Process Christ of Advent's Being & Becoming

by R.E. Slater

November 29, 2020
(posted December 12, 2020)

This is my third edit in as many days attempting to speak to this topic correctly. Simply, I would like to take the ideas of Process Theology and speak them into Christ's Advent which we typically worship during the Christmas Season though in actual historical terms Christ was born in the summer, which is another subject for another time.

I would like to think through how the church's liturgical Advent is a "Process Advent" borne in the personage of the "Process Christ". As all of life and life events are process events even as we are people of process then so too is the entirety of the church calendar of events, its remembrances, the history behind the memorials, and the people and societies of their day. All is a process of being. All is in the process of becoming. Thus, the Process Christ of our Process-based Advent season.

Now however mundanely I may speak to these ideas I do wish to not speak to them in technical or philosophical process terms. I would rather try to take the church's common creedal classics and systematic theologies and tip them towards process theology.

It seems easy enough but let's see if I can actually do this "process" justice! (pun intended). Perhaps, if I am able, with a touch of sublimity by utilizing poetic prose tied into the old-timey doctrines in an elevated sense by imbuing their words and ideas with a stream of process "thought and language".

Let's start with a quick dive into the basics (sic, Classic Theology of Advent) and from there try to speak those same Christian teachings in a "process sense" of theology. 


Classic Theology of Advent
(Systematic Theology)

The Basics, Part 1
Wikipedia - Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed in most Christian denominations as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity.

The term "Advent" is also used in Eastern Orthodoxy for the 40-day Nativity Fast, which has practices different from those in the West.

The name was adopted from Latin adventus "coming; arrival", translating Greek parousia. In the New Testament, this is the term used for the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the season of Advent in the Christian calendar anticipates the "coming of Christ" from three different perspectives: (1) the physical nativity in Bethlehem, (2) the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, (3) and the eschatological Second Coming.

Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional, erecting a Christmas tree or a Chrismon tree, lighting a Christingle, as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations, a custom that is sometimes done liturgically through a hanging of the greens ceremony. The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West. The Eastern Nativity Fast does not use the equivalent parousia in its preparatory services.
The Basics, Part 2
"Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible (Systematic Theology)" explains what the Bible teaches about God (Theology), Jesus ( Christology ), the Holy Spirit (Pneumatology), Humanity (Anthropology), Salvation (Soteriology), Grace vs Law, the Church (Ecclesiology), Church Leadership, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Healing, Angels (Angelology), the Enemy (Demonology), Christian Morals (Moral Theology), Prayer, Worship, Death (Thanatology), and the Second Coming (Eschatology). - Anon

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Wikipedia - Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the doctrines of the Christian faith. It addresses issues such as what the Bible teaches about certain topics or what is true about God and his universe. It also builds on biblical disciplines, church history, as well as biblical and historical theology. Systematic theology shares its systematic tasks with other disciplines such as constructive theology, dogmatics, ethics, apologetics, and philosophy of religion.
Since it is a systemic approach, systematic theology organizes truth under different headings[1] and there are ten basic areas (or categories), although the exact list may vary slightly. These are:
  • Theology proper – The study of the character of God
  • Angelology – The study of angels
  • Biblical theology – The study of the Bible
  • Christology – The study of Christ
  • Ecclesiology – The study of the church
  • Eschatology – The study of the end times[5]
  • Hamartiology – The study of sin
  • Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit
  • Soteriology – The study of salvation
  • Theological anthropology – The study of the nature of humanity. 

 

Introduction - What Is Advent?

The first Sunday of Advent (Nov 29, 2020) marks the coming of Christ in several ways:
(1) by incarnate birth (the virgin birth of Jesus),

(2a) by spiritual rebirth (through repentance and faith),
(2b) by sanctification, transformation, etc (through personal committal), and
(3) by creational rebirth. This latter refers to the everyday Spirit-filled 
birthing processes woven into the world of man and creation as each
bubbles effervescently forward towards generative goodness and wellbeing.
Advent Sunday, or "Coming" Sunday," is a very apt description of the Christian faith. A faith which is (1) Founded in Christ from birth to death to eternity; which is (2) extended and enlarged by Christ to all mankind and creation, and (3) recharged/uplifted/empowered by Christ throughout the generative processes of the cosmos' creative becoming.
Said another way: "From God's heart into all; out of God's love for all; and by God's grace and wisdom through time immemorial, Christ is all-in-all. Christ be praised!"

God's design is one of love and goodness
(Theology, Anthropology, Soteriology, Hamartiology)

God created the world as an organizing, sustaining, bubbling, effervescing, continuance of generative life-giving processes of goodness and wellbeing. These processes from a cycle from birth to life to death then lifts up and begins again to resurrection to transformation/reformation to immortality and does not stop - cannot be stopped - since it is a life emitting process spoken forth by the Creator God (I, and JRR Tolkien prefer the idea of sung forth by the Creator God).

Creation, rather than being initialized as a Genesis-event from nothing, was the always-there primal void of the roiling cosmos which has ever been interwoven and intermeshed with God's shalom of divine life-giving transformation. A generative process which was always interacting with itself before igniting from its interactive void-like state into an initializing energy forming the Big Bang event towards a life-birthing matrix of being and becoming. Which, of course, meshes well with the academic idea of evolutionary process creation. Thus, as a process theologian, we think of creation as something already there interacting with God rather than something which is not there and unaffected by God until it was spoken into existence from nothing rather than from something.

If we approach this in quantum physical terms, one is known as creatio continua - something which was always there in some form of entropic state. While the other is known as creatio ex nihilo - referring to the absolute nothingness of something. The former is a hot plasmic void of one dimensional space bearing infinite time. The latter is a metaphorical void bearing no matter or time potentiality at all. The former is a modern scientific idea (possible classical too as I've seen from the neo-orthodox German theologians; and perhaps as recently as the theologian Keith Ward) while the other is a Greek-Hellenistic idea developed during the time of Plato.

How the Hebrews thought of creational genesis in their Semetic ideas I'm unsure though I lean to the idea that they held to some type of process-like flow of rhythm and balance unlike the Greek concept. As an aside, both Middle-Eastern and Asian theology, seem quite comfortable with the idea of life in process, or as a circle to life, and so on, and so on. It is only in Western philosophy we've tried to "manage" the unseen as an isolated non-process interrelated series of cause-and-effect events without consequence. Which in hindsight can be seen as quite "flat-earth" kind of thinking.

As God, So Too Creation

As God was, and is, and always will be, so too the cosmos was, and is, and always will be. As an open (unclosed) entropy system of interrelated processes where each event, each particle, each energy packet, affects the other in some way. Both God and the cosmos are ancient. Each bear a timeless relationship with the other. Each have no beginning and no end (if matter is thought of as a state of entropy which can never cease to exist).

As a process theologian, it does not bother me that God and cosmos existed side-by-side. In a sense, their estate is sure. That is, God is God, and the cosmos is not God. And though the Christian argument goes that God "controls" creation (whether organized and fashioned, or spoken into existence in some way) I prefer to think of God and creation in partnership with one another.

That God has spoken "shalom" into the cosmos' metaphysical substance which has energized it towards a life in search for wholeness and wellbeing. Which is yet another reason I like to think of the evolutionary process has bearing within it a God-borne teleology striving not only for life but for rhythm and balance towards a kind of fulfillment. That is, evolution is not a God-less process but a God-filled process.

Which brings us to the descriptive terms of God in relationship with the world-creation-nature-cosmos (panentheism) as versus God separated from the world-cosmos-etc only entering into it as He pleases (classic theism). Neither panentheism or theism or pantheistic systems which thinks of God and the world as one entity. But the former, pan-en-theism, would more closely integrate the Creator into and with His creation will the other, theism, would keep God in a transcendent state of otherness and rule.

For argument's sake, hypothetically, if there were no creation God still would be - but He could not be known. We know God only through God's creation. Each speaks of the other but in the generative sense of freewill-obedient agency. Not in the non-generative sense of disobedient-freewill agency commonly described as sin and evil. The process position states that God abides with us moment-by-moment in assisting us to share in His love and goodness within a cosmos which bears processes disturbed by agency-born sin and evil even as we can be. A God who is not involved, imbued, or vested in, His creation is a God living for God's Self rather than as a God sharing His love to His creation. A God wishing to live with us in the abiding circles of Love's fellowships.

God and creation are then an ever-and-always-and-even-now symbiosis of continuance bursting forth with birthing, living, dying, processes of novelty, uniqueness, energetic light and life. All bearing God's goodness, mercy and love. As in the past, so for today, and evermore into the everlasting ages to come. Thus we live in a process world birthed by a process God of liveliness and originality.


Christ speaks to God's Design
(Christology, Pneumatology, Eschatology)

This is God's wonderous design. It cannot be undone. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be slowed down. It is effervescent. Uncontainable. Neither sin, death, man or beast may stop it. If blocked it reroutes. If hindered it sprouts elsewhere. If removed it births again. It bottled up it bursts its container like the new wine of the Gospel.

The goodness, love, and life of God are eternally BIRTHING novell events from the Prince of Life, Love, and Grace. These sublime events were exampled to us by Christ Himself by His birth, live, and death. They are seen throughout nature in its cycles and events.

An act of kindness begets more acts of kindness. An act of selflessness sows more acts of selflessness. It is a principle of creation as much as a principle of ethics. Love forebears, forgives, forges new relationships. Hate ends all, divides all, affects all. All of life is a begetting and sowing, building and affecting, being and becoming.

The gifts of God are seen in the one who repents, receiving Christ's atoning redemption, and learns to live in God's Spirit of loving service. These divine gifts resemble the patterns of life and death found in creation. Life in Christ marks death to self. Becoming weak in Christ marks learning to be strong in Christ's Spirit. Bearing all, being all, transforming all, dying to all, serving all, speaking life and light into all. These are the hallmarks of the process-filled Christian.


Sin and Death Cannot Prevent God's Design

When sin and evil enters, its anger and judgment is immediately upon its own head. It is judged for what it is by what it isn't... generative goodness and love. Darkness cannot withhold the light. Light will always supercede the darkness. Light is a fire. It burns up all that is in its path.

The Spirit of God is the Holy Fire of God's design, will, judgment, and decrees. God has spoken into creation His lifeblood and sustaining power. A divinely sovereign power marked by suffering, empathy, weakness just as Jesus experienced in human birth, travail, of the cross of suffering and death. And yet in that fraility of human experience Jesus was strong in the Spirit, raised by the power of God in resurrection, to reign in salvific power.

Let me say this again. God's sovereignty is not the kind of raw power that does what it wants. On the contrary, God upholds the world, sustains our weariness when we despair, uplifts our hearts to march on under sin and oppression. His power atones, redeems, resurrects. It does not harm, is not cruel, nor performs unloving acts of power. Whatever churchly picture we have painted of God goes against the process God whom we know a generatively good, generous, and life creating.

In the Old Testament this God warns of sin's harms and evils. Wishes to protect His people from wickedness and ruin. As Creator who has given agency to us to do good or evil, He cannot stop us from lives of worthlessness pursuing the idols of our hearts. When the bible declares God goes to war with His enemies it is a picture of the kind of God His people hold in their hearts. A God of their beliefs but not a God of reality. God does not kill but saves. God judges our shortcomings but does not aide us rushing into hell. He is a God of life not death and annihilation contra the book of Revelation.

In the bible, written by both Spirit of God and by man, we have many pictures of God. And yet God is not like Pharaoh nor Caesar. God is not like any other king or lord on this earth. God is a suffering King who serves. Who hears the cry of the harmed and comes to find the lost. Who seeks the lost lambs of this world to rescue and provide. Who places Himself in the place of ourselves and bears our sins and judgment. This God, this Godly-King, this Fisher-King, is the Servant-King to all He has made. God holds Himself accountable for its wellbeing and sustaining enterprise.

The God of the Floods and Fire is the God who warns us of their coming as He did Noah and his family. Who tells His people through Jesus to give their denarii to Caesar but learn to not act in Caesar's ways. Who can no more control a freewill creation than He can the human heart. Both are freewill actors. Both are granted agency to be and become. But it is in the being and the becoming of the heart and spirit of God which are guides. Not in the being and becoming of a broken, eschewing fellowship seeking its own misguided ways, teachings, and worship of non-God-like idols. A process God is an open and relational Saviour of the World who seeks its goodness and wellbeing. Not its end and harm. These latter are but the wayward teachings of God's people confusing earthly king with heavenly.


The Fathomless Deeps of God's Cosmos

When we look up into the dark night skies, into its fathomless deeps, we cannot imagine a greater power. Yet it's strength and majesty is but a glimpse of our Lord God's fathomless majesty who holds the worlds in His hands and guides its courses by the processes He first installed within their very deeps. Even the deeps of our hearts marking the deeps of His creation.

God's world envelops us within and without. We are because there is a world we may be, and breathe, and behold. In it is God's Self whose restless Spirit envelops us like the worlds in which we live between and beyond. Worlds of incomprehension - both in goodness and beauty - as well as bottomless darkness and pain. Yet worlds where God is always present every moment with us directing as He can our paths in this world unto forgiveness, mercy, and aide amidst the harrowing evil we have brought upon ourselves and the earth itself.

Let us not despair of this God of the Deeps. From the depths of hell, from the depths of this world's sin and evil, even from the depths of our being, God is there working as He can within the agencies of this world whose ungodly processes speak death instead of life. And yet, because of Jesus, the Immanuel Christ, who Advent bespeaks God's Coming in everyway possible, we join with God's processes knowing God life cannot be stopped in its majestic crawl throughout all crevices and lifescapes of this life and the next to come.


We Remember Jesus' Advent

Through the church calendar the church of God remembers Jesus' Advent as a series of fixed liturgical advent Sundays. I personally prefer to remember Advent - and the spirit of Advent - everyday of the year in my life as a fluid, dynamic call to love one another in every way possible. This is the beauty of God's redemption for the world and creation. It is a moment-by-moment, everywhere birthing process, where grace, mercy, forgiveness, goodness, and wellbeing begets more and more and more of the same.

But to those churches and Christians worshipping Advent by dishonoring its holy truths by words and deeds of death, it were better if they learned to speak life into the same world as God is speaking life. Godly Life and Love is beget by spiritual rebirth founded upon the One who was borne Incarnate to atone and redeem a world lost to its original birthing design of goodness and love.

God's redeeming atonement is an every moment-by-moment rolling concrescing process of novel birth, actualization, regeneration, and rebirth, again, and again, and again. It is this cycle of life which renews, replants, resows and raises a thousand fold what life and love look like despite our garden patches of weeds and tares. We are to raise up Cross-borne gardens displaying the flowers, vegetables, fruits, trees, and bushes native borne to the Spirit of Life. Each of us has been given these moments to do with as we can. Let us then use the shovels, hoes, rakes, and trowels given to us by God to build, create, renew, reclaim, reform, transform into the conformity of our holy God of Love.

And yes, the teaching of a Process God in a Process World has extremely high implications for how we treat one another in our politics, economic policies, social humanitarian causes, and acts of embracing the unwanted other. Even creation itself. For example, any form of capitalism or leadership not rooted or growing forms of Atoning-Redeeming Advent forces of love and healing practices is a foul religious system which is unregenerative. One which speaks death into God's concrescing world yearning for life, wholeness, and formidable expression of rejoicing. This fellowships must be rejected for what they are and are not.

All in all, Jesus is the bedrock, the cornerstone, the capstone to God's design of loving rebirth. We are made to be love, give love, share love. We are not called to any other purpose than servanthood and rebirthing man and creation into the majestic call of God to love. We are not to dominate a society by reforming it to our religious practices as these practices may be hollow acts of Phariseeism which Jesus decried and rejected. Jesus is the model we build our lives and civil societies upon. No less. No more. But Jesus Himself, the started and lifeblood of the Christian faith. Amen.

R.E. Slater
December 14, 2020

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Music Legend Dolly Parton and Country Star Jennifer Nettles
Sing "Circle of Love" - The Voice 2020





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Advent

By Mary Fairchild
Updated September 07, 2020

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30 (the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle in the Catholic tradition). Consequently, in Western Churches, the First Sunday of Advent can fall as early as November 27 or as late as December 3.

The season of Advent lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last or fourth Sunday of Advent.

In Eastern Orthodox churches, which use the Julian calendar, Advent begins earlier, on November 15, and lasts 40 days, rather than 4 weeks.

Advent Calendar Dates for 2020
  • November 29 - First Sunday of Advent
  • December 6 ​- Second Sunday of Advent
  • December 13 - Third Sunday of Advent
  • December 20 - Fourth Sunday of Advent
For denominations that celebrate Advent, the holiday marks the beginning of the church's liturgical year. Advent is primarily observed in churches that adhere to an ecclesiastical calendar of liturgical seasons, feasts, memorials, fasts, and holy days. Those churches include Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican / Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian.

The season of Advent is a period of both repentance and celebration. Christians spend time in spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Believers remember not only the Lord's first coming to earth as a human baby but also celebrate his continued presence with us today through the Holy Spirit. Advent is also a time for worshipers to anticipate his return at the Second Coming of Christ.

The word "advent" comes from the Latin term "adventus" which means "arrival" or "coming," particularly the arrival of something or someone of great significance.


The Candles of the Advent Wreath

The lighting of an Advent Wreath is a traditional custom that originated in Germany in the 16th-century. On the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple and one pink candle. In the center of the wreath sits a white candle.


On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple (or violet) candle is lit. This is called the "Prophecy Candle" and recalls the prophets, particularly Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Jesus Christ. It represents hope or expectation of the coming Messiah.


Each Sunday following, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle called the "Bethlehem Candle," is lit. This candle represents love and symbolizes Christ's manger.


On the third Sunday of Advent, the pink (or rose) candle is lit. This Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word meaning "rejoice." The change from purple to pink signifies the transition in season from repentance to celebration. The pink candle is called the "Shepherds Candle" and represents joy.


The last purple candle is called the "Angels Candle," It is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent and represents peace.

Traditionally, on Christmas Eve, the white center candle is lit. This "Christ Candle" represents the life of Jesus Christ that has come to light the world. It represents purity.


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Advent

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The term "Advent" is also used in Eastern Orthodoxy for the 40-day Nativity Fast, which has practices different from those in the West.[3]Advent is a season of the liturgical year observed in most Christian denominations as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the Second Coming. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year in Western Christianity.

The name was adopted from Latin adventus "coming; arrival", translating Greek parousia. In the New Testament, this is the term used for the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, the season of Advent in the Christian calendar anticipates the "coming of Christ" from three different perspectives: the physical nativity in Bethlehem, the reception of Christ in the heart of the believer, and the eschatological Second Coming.[4]

Practices associated with Advent include keeping an Advent calendar, lighting an Advent wreath, praying an Advent daily devotional,[1] erecting a Christmas tree or a Chrismon tree,[1] lighting a Christingle,[2] as well as other ways of preparing for Christmas, such as setting up Christmas decorations,[5][6][7] a custom that is sometimes done liturgically through a hanging of the greens ceremony.[1][8] The equivalent of Advent in Eastern Christianity is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs in length and observances, and does not begin the liturgical church year as it does in the West. The Eastern Nativity Fast does not use the equivalent parousia in its preparatory services.[9]

Dates

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church, and the AnglicanLutheranMoravianPresbyterian, and Methodist calendars, Advent commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas—the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew's Day (30 November). It can fall on any date between 27 November and 3 December. When Christmas Day is a Monday, Advent Sunday will fall on its latest possible date.[10] In the Ambrosian Rite and the Mozarabic Rite of the Catholic Church, Advent begins on the sixth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday after St. Martin's Day (11 November).[11]

History

It is not known when the period of preparation for Christmas that is now called Advent began – it was certainly in existence from about 480 – and the novelty introduced by the Council of Tours of 567 was to order monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas.[12] It is "impossible to claim with confidence a credible explanation of the origin of Advent".[13]

Associated with Advent as a time of penitence was a period of fasting, known also as the Nativity Fast or the Fast of December.[14]

Representation of Saint Perpetuus

According to Saint Gregory of Tours the celebration of Advent began in the fifth century when the Bishop Perpetuus directed that starting with the St. Martin's Day on 11 November until Christmas, one fasts three times per week; this is why Advent was sometimes also named "Lent of St. Martin". This practice remained limited to the diocese of Tours until the sixth century.[15]

But the Macon council held in 581 adopted the practice in Tours and soon all France observed three days of fasting a week from the feast of Saint Martin until Christmas. The most devout worshipers in some countries exceeded the requirements adopted by the Council of Macon, and fasted every day of Advent. The homilies of Gregory the Great in the late sixth century showed four weeks to the liturgical season of Advent, but without the observance of a fast.[16] However, under Charlemagne in the ninth century, writings claim that the fast was still widely observed.

In the thirteenth century, the fast of Advent was not commonly practised although, according to Durand of Mende, fasting was still generally observed. As quoted in the bull of canonisation of St. Louis, the zeal with which he observed this fast was no longer a custom observed by Christians of great piety. It was then limited to the period from the feast of Saint Andrew (November 30) until Christmas Day (December 25), since the solemnity of this apostle was more universal than that of St. Martin. When Pope Urban V ascended the papal seat in 1362, he simply forced people in his court to abstinence but there was no question of fasting. It was then customary in Rome to observe five weeks of Advent before Christmas. This is particularly discussed in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory. Ambrosian or Milan Liturgies have six.[citation needed] The Greeks show no more real consistency; Advent was an optional fast that some begin on 15 November, while others begin on 6 December or only a few days before Christmas.[17]

The liturgy of Advent remained unchanged until the Second Vatican Council introduced minor changes, differentiating the spirit of Lent from that of Advent, emphasising Advent as a season of hope for Christ's coming now as a promise of his Second Coming.[18]

Traditions

Rorate Mass in Prague Cathedral, Czech Republic

The theme of readings and teachings during Advent is often the preparation for the Second Coming and the Last Judgement. The first clear references in the Western Church to Advent occur in the Gelasian Sacramentary, which provides Advent Collects, Epistles, and Gospels for the five Sundays preceding Christmas and for the corresponding Wednesdays and Fridays.[19] While the Sunday readings relate to the first coming of Jesus Christ as saviour as well as to his Second Coming as judge, traditions vary in the relative importance of penitence and expectation during the weeks in Advent.

Liturgical colours

Celebration of a Advent vespers. Cope and antependium are violet, the liturgical colour of Advent in the Roman Rite.

Since approximately the 13th century, the usual liturgical colour in Western Christianity for Advent has been violet; Pope Innocent III declared black to be the proper colour for Advent, though Durandus of Saint-Pourçain claims violet has preference over black.[20] The violet or purple colour is often used for antependia, the vestments of the clergy, and often also the tabernacle. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, rose may be used instead, referencing the rose used on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent.[21] A rose coloured candle in Western Christianity is referenced as a sign of joy (Gaudete) lit on the third Sunday of Advent.[22]

In some denominations, blue, a colour representing hope, is an alternative liturgical colour for Advent, a custom traced to the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the medieval Sarum Rite in England. In addition, the colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates from the 8th century. This colour is often referred to as "Sarum blue".

The Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent while the Methodist Book of Worship and the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship identify purple or blue as appropriate for Advent. There has been an increasing trend in Protestant churches to supplant purple with blue during Advent as it is a hopeful season of preparation that anticipates both Bethlehem and the consummation of history in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.[23]

Proponents of this new liturgical trend argue that purple is traditionally associated with solemnity and somberness, which is fitting to the repentant character of Lent. The Roman Catholic Church retains the traditional violet.[24] Blue is not generally used in Latin Catholicism,[25] and where it does regionally, it has nothing to do with Advent specifically, but with veneration of the Blessed Virgin.[26] However, on some occasions that are heavily associated with Advent, such as the Rorate Mass (but not on Sundays), white is used.[27]


During the Nativity Fast, red is used by Eastern Christianity, although gold is an alternative colour.[28]

Music

Medieval manuscript of Gregorian chant setting of "Rorate Coeli"

Many churches also hold special musical events, such as Nine Lessons and Carols and singing of Handel's Messiah oratorio. Also, the Advent Prose, an antiphonal plainsong, may be sung. The "Late Advent Weekdays", 17–24 December, mark the singing of the Great Advent 'O antiphons'.[29] These are the daily antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, or Evening Prayer (in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches) and Evensong in Anglican churches, and mark the forthcoming birth of the Messiah. They form the basis for each verse of the popular Advent hymn, "O come, O come, Emmanuel". German songs for Advent include "Es kommt ein Schiff, geladen" from the 15th century and "O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf", published in 1622. Johann Sebastian Bach composed several cantatas for Advent in Weimar, from Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, to Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147a, but only one more in Leipzig where he worked for the longest time, because there Advent was a silent time which allowed cantata music only on the first of the four Sundays.

During Advent, the Gloria of the Mass is omitted, so that the return of the angels' song at Christmas has an effect of novelty.[30] Mass compositions written especially for Lent, such as Michael Haydn's Missa tempore Quadragesimae, in D minor for choir and organ, have no Gloria and so are appropriate for use in Advent.

Fasting

Bishop Perpetuus of Tours, who died in 490, ordered fasting three days a week from the day after Saint Martin's Day (11 November). In the 6th century, local councils enjoined fasting on all days except Saturdays and Sundays from Saint Martin's Day to Epiphany (the feast of baptism), a period of 56 days, but of 40 days fasting, like the fast of Lent. It was therefore called Quadragesima Sancti Martini (Saint Martin's Lent).[11] This period of fasting was later shortened and called "Advent" by the Church.[31]

In the Anglican and Lutheran churches this fasting rule was later relaxed. The Roman Catholic Church later abolished the precept of fasting (at an unknown date at the latest in 1917), later, but kept Advent as a season of penitence. In addition to fasting, dancing and similar festivities were forbidden in these traditions. On Rose Sunday, relaxation of the fast was permitted. Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches still hold the tradition of fasting for 40 days before Christmas.

Local rites

In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.[32]

In Normandy, farmers employed children under twelve to run through the fields and orchards armed with torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, and thus it was believed driving out such vermin as were likely to damage the crops.[33]

In Italy, among other Advent celebrations is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus: in Italian tradition, the shepherds played these pipes when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.[34]

In recent times the most common observance of Advent outside church circles has been the keeping of an advent calendar or advent candle, with one door being opened in the calendar, or one section of the candle being burned, on each day in December leading up to Christmas Eve. In many countries, the first day of Advent often heralds the start of the Christmas season, with many people opting to erect their Christmas trees and Christmas decorations on or immediately before Advent Sunday.[7]

Since 2011, an Advent labyrinth consisting of 2500 tealights has been formed for the third Saturday of Advent in Frankfurt-Bornheim.[35][36]

Advent wreath

Advent wreath with three blue candles and one rose candle surrounding the central Christ Candle
Giant Advent wreath in KaufbeurenBavaria, Germany

The keeping of an Advent wreath is a common practice in homes or churches.[37] The concept of the Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century.[38] However, it was not until three centuries later that the modern Advent wreath took shape.[39] The modern Advent wreath, with its candles representing the Sundays of Advent, originated from an 1839 initiative by Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Protestant pastor in Germany and a pioneer in urban mission work among the poor. In view of the impatience of the children he taught as they awaited Christmas, he made a ring of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle. Custom has retained only the large candles.[40]

The wreath crown is traditionally made of fir tree branches knotted with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel, and sometimes mistletoe. It is also an ancient symbol signifying several things; first of all, the crown symbolises victory, in addition to its round form evoking the sun and its return each year. The number four represents the four Sundays of Advent, and the green twigs are a sign of life and hope. The fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel a symbol of victory over sin and suffering. The latter two, with the holly, do not lose their leaves, and thus represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace, as well as the symbol of the struggle against darkness. For Christians, this crown is also the symbol of Christ the King, the holly recalling the crown of thorns resting on the head of Christ.

The Advent wreath is adorned with candles, usually three violet or purple and one pink, the pink candle being lit on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday after the opening word, Gaudete, meaning "Rejoice", of the entrance antiphon at Mass. Some add a fifth candle (white), known as the Christ Candle, in the middle of the wreath, to be lit on Christmas Eve or Day.[41]

The candles symbolise, in one interpretation, the great stages of salvation before the coming of the Messiah; the first is the symbol of the forgiveness granted to Adam and Eve, the second is the symbol of the faith of Abraham and of the patriarchs who believe in the gift of the Promised Land, the third is the symbol of the joy of David whose lineage does not stop and also testifies to his covenant with God, and the fourth and last candle is the symbol of the teaching of the prophets who announce a reign of justice and peace. Or they symbolise the four stages of human history; creation, the Incarnation, the redemption of sins, and the Last Judgment.[42]

In Orthodox churches there are sometimes wreaths with six candles, in line with the six-week duration of the Nativity Fast/Advent.

In Sweden, white candles, symbol of festivity and purity, are used in celebrating Saint Lucy's Day, 13 December, which always falls within Advent.

Four Sundays

Celtic cross at Advent in memorial garden, Bon Air Presbyterian Church, Virginia, US
Advent candles

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the readings of Mass on the Sundays of Advent have distinct themes:[41]

  1. On the First Sunday (Advent Sunday), they look forward to the Second Coming of Christ.
  2. On the Second Sunday, the Gospel reading recalls the preaching of John the Baptist, who came to "prepare the way of the Lord"; the other readings have associated themes.
  3. On the Third Sunday (Gaudete Sunday), the Gospel reading is again about John the Baptist, the other readings about the joy associated with the coming of the Saviour.
  4. On the Fourth Sunday, the Gospel reading is about the events involving Mary and Joseph that led directly to the birth of Jesus, while the other readings are related to these.

In another tradition:[43][44]

  1. The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the Old Testament patriarchs who were Christ's ancestors, so some call the first Advent candle that of hope.
  2. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ's birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called that of Bethlehem, the way, or of the prophets.
  3. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-coloured vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent. The readings relate to John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called that of joy or of the shepherds. In the Episcopal Church USA, the collect "Stir up" (the first words of the collect) may be read during this week, although before the 1979 revision of the Book of Common Prayer it was sometimes read in the first Sunday of Advent. Even earlier, 'Stir-up Sunday' was once jocularly associated with the stirring of the Christmas mincemeat, begun before Advent. The phrase "stir up" occurs at the start of the collect for the last Sunday before Advent in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.[45]
  4. The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ's birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel's candle. The Magnificat or Song of Mary may be featured.
  5. Where an Advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and is lit during the Christmas Eve service.

Other variations of the themes celebrated on each of the four Sundays include:

  • The Prophets' Candle, symbolizing hope; the Bethlehem Candle, symbolizing faith; the Shepherds' Candle, symbolizing joy; the Angel's Candle, symbolizing peace[41]
  • Hope–Peace–Joy–Love[46]
  • Faithfulness–Hope–Joy–Love[47]
  • Prophets–Angels–Shepherds–Magi[47]
  • Faith–Prepare–Joy–Love[48]


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