Original Title: “Riffs: Joseph Bottum on the End of Advent (and the horror of our version of Christmas)”
Many years ago, we made a decision to, as much as possible, speak of Advent and not of Christmas, until Christmas. I’ve never been able to hold off the Christmas music, but as much as possible we’ve stayed with that commitment.
It’s also amusing to watch my co-workers get the puzzled look when I start referring to “advent,” something some/most of the have never heard of. They often assume I’m one of the “Christmas is a Babylonian occultic festival” whack jobs, which we usually have somewhere in the gallery.
It’s really very simple: Christmas is the feast of the incarnation and the season following that event. Advent is the recognition that we need a savior and the longing for that savior to come, according to God’s promises.
Christmas is joyous, but the joy comes after weeks of waiting, watching, lamenting and calling upon God. Advent is that season of waiting; of looking for the signs and promises of the savior in the scriptures and in the world.
That distinction should save us. We think we can manufacture our own salvation by going shopping. Advent says we cannot save ourselves, that only God can save us and that in his own time and in his own way.
Christmas is the return of the pagan festivals that we Christianized; the triumph of the commercial invention of a “holiday as shopping season” to end the year. It is the pagan, secular, godless imagination creating its own world of blessed wonder by way of its own story and its own magic. Christmas has become, in many ways, as spiritually dangerous as any of the recognized belief systems that apologists spend their time dismantling.
Joseph Bottum takes on the loss of Advent in the rise of the secular Christmas in an essay that continues to demonstrate his skill and importance as a writer. While I wish that Bottum had acknowledged the rediscovery of Advent by many evangelicals and the potential of the rediscovery to introduce the Christian year as a counterbalance to the pragmatic manipulation of time at the heart of our culture, it’s still an outstanding essay.
I have written about the celebration of Advent in our family with suggestions for that celebration in your family: Observing Advent and Christmas: Thoughts for the Christian Family.
I hope all of this helps you get off to a good start with Advent this year.