Thursday, November 29, 2007

Losing our grip on Advent?

Ask the Matriarch this week is all about how we can hang on to Advent in a world that wants us to keep Christmas - and of course, this is the hot topic for clergy in late November. On Sunday evening at St Mary's we will have our Advent Carol service - moving through from Palestrina's Matin Responsary to the great shout that concludes "Lo he comes"..."O Come quickly...Alleluia, Come Lord Come".
We will celebrate our journey from darkness to light, will hear the readings appointed for centuries, together with those great collects that send shivers down the spine as they call us to "cast away the works of darkness".
It will be wonderful, moving and appropriate - but
I can almost guarantee that there will be at least one disconcerted family who slips away before the end, appalled to discover that, despite the candlelight, we won't be singing "Away in a Manger" at all...
Because no-one out there "gets" Advent. They may be aware of the name, because of the countdown element of their Advent Calendars - but these tend to major on a daily chocolate and a Disney theme, and even the explicitly Christian ones lead you straight into the Christmas story. Schools are breaking up early too, which means that the first school carol service (which will be well and truly Christmassy) takes place in St Mary's on 11th December - and my first Christmas dinner will be courtesy of the Mothers' Union on this coming Monday 2nd December. Advent, it seems, is a lost cause - and it's dotty to waste the opportunity that Christmas provides to welcome people into the church, to "tell them the stories of Jesus they love to hear"

At Greenbelt 06 FabBishop suggested that it might be wise to make the most of any common ground the church has with the Hallmark calendar of secular feasts - and it doesn't feel in any way helpful to go on saying, in a chill but holy way
"Advent is a time of preparation, of pondering the Four Last Things" while outside everyone else is already waxing sentimental over The Little Drummer Boy. We're supposed to be ministering in the world...not tying ourselves in knots because the world doesn't grasp the niceties of the liturgical calendar. On the whole, I'm not prepared to lose a golden opportunity to celebrate God's love -it's lonely up on the moral high ground!
So - do we have to abandon all hope of taking time to breathe, to put our spiritual house in order as we prepare to savour the wonder that is to come?
An article in last Friday's Church Times suggested a possible solution - that we move the "waiting/preparing" element of Advent back into November, into the "Kingdom season" which otherwise passes almost un-noticed. I think I might be up for that idea. You might be able to lure people to a study group at this relatively fallow point of the year (That's right -before the Christmas parties start!) - but Advent is, surely, a season for preaching to the converted. Meanwhile, with an eye to mission, one church in our deanery is holding a "crib festival" - an exhibition of some 100 cribs from various sources...another has a Christmas Tree festival....People will pour in to enjoy those, people who would be utterly lost and confused if confronted with the solemnity of Advent.
So let's be content to keep Advent for the "conoisseurs" - our core congregation - but to do everything we can, and more, to make sure that those outside are invited to hearing the message of the angels.


Dr Moose said...

You're right, of course. The church has lost the link with popular culture - and rather a long time ago at that.

Then again, given my background, Advent was never on my radar either - and isn't really so much now.

But on a different tack - if you haven't yet got a copy of Steve Croft's wonderful book "The Advent Calendar" go out and get one, fast! You will not be disappointed.

Fiona Marcella said...

I never quite know whether MY memories of "the good old days" coming as they do from someone who went to a catholic school and had an anglo-catholic priest, are at all similar to those of others for example my mother who would probably have thought Advent carols were "awfully high". I think on the whole I'm going to try to go for keeping Advent when it is. After all if changing it means we can't wear purple all month then I'm really stuffed.

seethroughfaith said...

-it's lonely up on the moral high ground!

like your idea of adjusting the church calander a bit ... Marcella you could wear purple at the end of Kingdom Tide (or whatever you call it) and then gold during Advent becasue we are celebrating something wonderful.

This Sunday - Advent Sunday - is a huge thing here in Finland - most go to church and there are heaps of concerts etc about the anticpation of the arrival - but it's straight into Christmas after that :)

Karin said...

Oddly, my atheist/agnostic, anti-church parents kept Advent most religiously by lighting the candles on the homemade Advent wreath each Sunday while listening to a recording of carols from the cathedral(Dom)in Hamburg. Perhaps it was they who unwittingly sowed the original seeds of my faith as a result.

So Advent is the most special time of year for me, but as my own family haven't been so keen on celebrating it I tend to keep it in mostly private ways that have developed along with my faith.

However, my son is looking forward to the Pfeffernuesse, without which there can be no real Christmas, let alone Advent, apparently.

I've been asked to help out with a Christmas crafts activity at my church for the local children, so was thinking of a Jesse tree and using the theme of waiting and anticipation for presents etc as well as for a special person from God. Any tips from those with experience of this appreciated.

Karen Sapio said...

My thing is that many people don't come to church during Christmastide--once Christmas Eve is over their off on trips, recovering from Christmas excess, etc. So when we finally do get around to singing Christmas carols and preaching about Incarnation, no one is around.

Freedom Bound said...

Advent once stretched from November 11th (St Martin) to Christmas Eve....hence the introduction of Kingdom Season in CCP to regain a sense of this extended period. We would just be regaining what we once lost if we started Advent earlier and then had the space to move towards Christmas in the second part of Advent.....