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.