Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent Wars?

Let's be clear and upfront. We love Advent. The mission of Occupy Advent is to help people to slow down during this season; to bring a message of anticipation and hope.

That being said, we are not interested in any sort of culture war.

I have yet to meet a single person who has come to faith because he or she has been shamed about putting up Christmas decorations, or singing Christmas songs. Not a single one. Have you?

Perhaps a distinction is in order, between to similarly named festive occasions: secular holidays and sacred Holy Days. What do I mean by those two terms? Well, holidays are often determined by the state, and tend to have either a nationalistic or commercial themes. Holy Days are determined by the church, and usually only have meaning for people of faith.

Some examples of what I mean:
Holidays: 4th of July, Memorial Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Labor Day, etc.
Holy Days: Easter, Commemoration of Saints, Palm Sunday, Christmas Day, etc.

Why does the distinction matter? Because there is often some movement between the two categories; that is, a secular holiday taking on religious themes, or a religious Holy Day being secularized.

The question of nationalism and its role in the church is a topic for another day. More important for me around this time of year is people using faith as a marketing gimmick.

There are two separate celebrations around this time of year, and I think it would be helpful to keep them separate  (1) The first is the secular holiday of Christmas. This holiday begins around Halloween, and is primarily focused on gift giving and generosity and general "niceness" (and negatively on the commercialism that undergirds it all). Christmas carols (both sacred and secular) are sung starting around Thanksgiving, office holiday parties are thrown, and everyone wishes you "Seasons Greetings." There is nothing inherently wrong with this holiday, except for when it is confused with:

(2) the sacred Holy Day of Christmas. The Holy Day of Christmas is December 25th, celebrated only as early as sundown on the 24th. The sacred "Christmas season" begins on the 25th and extends through January 6th. This season is focused not on selling or on the gifts that we give, but the gift that God has gven to us: on the miracle of God made flesh in the person of Jesus. It is preceded not by "the holiday season" but by the season of Advent -- a time designated for quieting down, and watching and listening for the action of God and the arrival of God on earth.

We here at Occupy Advent celebrate both the secular holiday of Christmas, and also the holy season of Advent. You may occasionally see a snarky post about early Christmas music or when Christmas begins, but that is only because ... well ... we are snarky folks.

It is not our goal to shame anyone or be the Advent Grinch. Our goal is to lift up the positive examples of how observing the holy season of Advent can enrich your life and deepen your faith.

Do your holiday shopping, take part in the holiday festivals and celebrations. But please remember to also quiet down this Advent: watch and prepare for the unexpected miracles of God.

And a blessed Advent to all of you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

He Sees You When You're Sleeping

The last  in the series of Occupy Advent posters based on Christmas songs, designed by Corinne Woodward. Corinne has made these available for purchase - see our facebook page for more info!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Xmas Wars!

Ah, it is that time of year again ... Time for the Christmas Wars. An amazing battle, in which it appears only one side shows up to fight with unseen, unknown opponents.
"They are taking the Christ out of Christmas!"
"Don't shop at stores that X out Christ!"
This post is not about the general culture of "culture wars" that undergirds this annual conflict. Suffice it to say that we are wishing people "Happy Holidays" -- after all, it's not Christmas until the 25th, and we are busy observing Advent.

But, on a character-limited platform like twitter and with a holiday related account, it was inevitable that someone would bring up our use of the abbreviation "Xmas." Yes, we use it. With frequency, and without apology. And, well, we're pretty sure that we are in favor of a Xmas that has something to Jesus.

Note the abbreviated captions
above this icon
In the first century world in which the Christian church emerged, literacy was not widespread in the population. Unless your vocation required it - or you came from a wealthy enough family to afford an education - chances are you would not read. And so abbreviations were quite common. We're familiar with some of these. Ever see a cross in the sanctuary with the letters INRI? Perfect example. An abbreviation for "Jesus of Nazarus, King of the Jews," the charge which Pilate had nailed above Jesus cross. Notice: this abbreviation - still common in the worship space of churches today! - uses simply the first letter of each word.

Or another: The Jesus fish. The Jesus fish was used to mark early Christian worship spaces. Why a fish? Because, by abbreviating the phrase using the first letter of each word, the fish (ἰχθύος / IXTHUS) meant "Jesus Christ: God's Son, Savior." Yup. Just the first letters. And how did they represent the word "Christ"? A great big X.

Which brings us to Xmas. The one we worship, the one whose nativity we celebrate, is Ἰησοῦς Χριστός. There it is again, that great big X. The Greek letter "chi," used for centuries to represent Christ. We are not "X-ing out Christ." We are not removing Jesus from anything. We are following a long and venerable tradition of using the letter chi to represent the title Christ.

Plus, it uses five fewer characters on twitter, so there's that.

Advent Politics?

It is inevitable. Because we use the "Occupy" name, we get asked about our politics. Is Occupy Advent a political statement? Are you a supporter of the Occupy movement(s)? Are you a parody of Occupy, trying to co-opt the word?

There is no single answer to those questions. But some thought has been given to the politics of Advent, some thoughts that we would like to share with you, discuss with you, and join in conversation with you about.

Before the season of Advent begins it is ushered in by the apocalyptic texts of the end of Ordinary Time (the Season after Pentecost), culminating in Christ the King Sunday. At the foundation of these Sundays - and also of the apocalyptic readings of the first Sunday of Advent - is the most basic Christian creed: "Jesus is Lord."

Now often seen as an innocuous slogan of the church, "Jesus is Lord" was a radical political claim for the first Christians. It is this creed that led to many of the martyrdoms of early Christians. In claiming Jesus as Lord, these Christians were also making the political statement - Caesar is not Lord. It was treason to confess Jesus as Lord, because that confession necessitated a denial of the authority of the Emperor.

Still today, this is a troublesome claim. As a homiletical exercise prior to Christ the King Sunday, we placed various ideologies, ideas, and movements into the equation "If Jesus is Lord, then ________ is not." The not-so-shocking discovery we made? People loved when we told them that the things they despised are not Lord. People hated when we told them that the things they love are not Lord. In one night, with one train of thought, we simultaneously pissed of both Tea Partiers and Occupiers, socialists and capitalists.

It seems that we all have our idols, the things that we want to cling to as Lord. However, any Advent politics must begin with this affirmation: Jesus is Lord. And if Jesus is Lord, then my favorite political party, or ideology, or cause, or economic system, is not.

There is certainly more to be said, and we will return to this. For now, however, we leave you with this radical political claim, and the foundation of a politics of Advent: Jesus is Lord.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Practice: Waiting

Lord knows I am not a patient person. I hate waiting. I am the person that will walk back and forth, looking for the shortest check-out line at the grocery store. Being stuck behind a slow driver on a two-lane highway fill my car with all sorts of colorful language.

I hate waiting. I suspect that is true of many people.

We are taught to be productive, to make good use of our time. In a world filled with commitments, our schedules are full to overflowing. Work, school, children, friends - there is always somewhere for us to get, something else for us to be doing, something to accomplish. And when we are stuck waiting, we are "wasting time."

Isn't that part of the frustration? There is somewhere to get, somewhere to go, something to do. We don't have the enough time to waste it standing around waiting.

And yet, that is precisely what Advent calls us to do - to come out to the wilderness with John the Baptist and wait.

Fittingly, this is what the people of God have done throughout our history. Abraham and Sarah are promised a child, and they grow impatient when it does not happen soon enough. When they try to take matters into their own hands and conceive through Hagar God reminds them, "Wait, I've got this."

Moses secures the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt, and they are ready to get back home, ready to come into the promised land. Instead, they head out into the wilderness where they wait - a chance for God to prepare them to come into the promise.

And now we enter into Advent, and we too receive the command: Wait. Like Abraham & Sarah, like Israel in the Wilderness, like Israel in Babylon, we have been called to the important work of waiting.

Yes, "important work of waiting." It is as we wait that we go about the work that the Baptist calls us to, preparing a path for the Lord.  The word “wait” carries with it meanings of “look for” and “expect.”

As we wait, we look for the coming Lord and the Kingdom. As we wait, we prepare expectantly for the advent of Emmanuel.

I have officiated at an inordinate number of weddings this year. Hours before the wedding service is scheduled to begin, I am at the church preparing. And while there, of course I run in to the bride- and groom-to-be. The are waiting: rushing around talking to friends and family, laughing, fixing hair and clothes, preparing their hearts for what is about to happen, getting all the last minute arrangements into place. Not a moment wasted in that waiting!

Or talk to a couple pregnant with their first child about waiting for the arrival of that child. There is a nursery to paint, cabinets to childproof, supplies to stock up on, and all sort of preparations for this huge change in their life. Not a moment wasted in that waiting!

Yes, we have busy schedules – especially this time of year. But there will be time to wait, I guarantee.

As you are standing in that long check-out line (and they are all long lines this time of year!), quit wasting time, there is important waiting to do! Say a prayer for the people in line around you and for those who do not have the luxury of buying a feast for their family.

Stuck in a traffic jam? Quit wasting time, there is important waiting to do! Give thanks that you have a car and someplace to get to.  Spend the time thinking on how you can generously share God’s love with those in need in your community.

Again and again there we will receive the gift of unexpected time this December. Quit wasting it, and get on with the important work of waiting!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent History: The Nativity Fast

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ….

Ok,not really. Actually in 1054 ce, the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome split ways. Commonly known as the Great Schism, this created a divide in Christendom between the Eastern and Western traditions. Over time, these two traditions have grown apart in their practices. Liturgical traditions in the Western church (Roman Catholic, Anglican/Episcopal, and mainline Protestant denominations) observe Advent. Churches in the Eastern church observe the Nativity Fast.

In many ways, the Nativity Fast is similar to Advent. It is a time of preparation and anticipation of the coming of Jesus. It encompasses both a remembrance of Jesus birth in Bethelehem, and the eschatological hope of his return in glory.

But unlike the four weeks of Advent, the Nativity Fast is forty days. This period of abstinence and penance begins on November 15, and concludes on December 24. In this way, the Nativity Fast is similar to a Lenten fast to which many Western Christians are accustomed. Special services are held. Greater religious discipline is expected. The liturgical colors are somber, usually purple. Adherents are asked to fast from rich foods including red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, fish, oil, and wine.

The focus of the time of the fast is to prepare for the Nativity (the birth of Christ). Many of the extra Bible readings are from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and lift up the prophets who foretold the incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the three who survived the fiery furnace.

During the Nativity Fast, several feast days are celebrated. These include the feasts of Saint Nicolas (Dec. 6), Saints Spiridon & Herman (Dec. 12), and Saint Ignatius (Dec. 20). During a feast day, the fast is broken and feasts are observed.

What can Western Christians learn from our Eastern brothers and sisters? Certainly it is a complicated question, and has many answers.

First, the Nativity Fast is truly a season of preparation – of fasting and getting ready. With the exception of the few feast days sprinkled through the forty days, Christians are encouraged to focus on getting ready. The Nativity Fast reminds us that it is not yet time to celebrate – that time will come, but it is not yet here.

Second, Nativity Fast is broken by feast days. On those days, the fast is lifted and the full bounty of our world can (and should!) be experienced. As we think about our lives as Western Christian – about office parties, family gatherings, and the intense period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – we find encouragement in the Nativity Fast. Yes (of course!), observe the season of Advent. But at the same time, participate in the joyous celebrations – the feasts – happening around you.

Although Advent is a period of preparation, we cannot – nor should we –completely separate ourselves from the world around us. Even in the midst of a fast, we find cause to enjoy God’s good gifts at the feast.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry

Many thanks to graphic designer Corinne Woodward for designing this series of Occupy Advent posters based on well-known Christmas songs.