Should We Celebrate Advent? (Part 1)

By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.

Editor in Chief

PJSFaith“We’ve never done that here before.”

That brief statement was intended to provide a comprehensive resolution to my introduction of an Advent candle into the services of the church I pastored several years ago.

I had asked each of the deacons to begin one of the morning services during the four Sundays of Advent by lighting an Advent candle and sharing a two-minute testimony regarding the importance of the season.

I thought that the mounting popularity of Advent calendars, candles and wreaths within evangelical (i.e., non-liturgical) churches would allow our small fellowship to enjoy this simple ceremony—possibly forging a meaningful new tradition. At least it would be better than two more minutes of announcements, I surmised.

I was mistaken. My attempt to bring a touch of seasonal formalism into the worship service of our humble Baptist church proved to be an experiment in futility rather than a foundation for a new church rite.

Still the honest question remains, should we celebrate Advent?

In recent years the term has become ubiquitous even within the non-liturgical circles of evangelical and fundamental Christianity—where the church calendar is followed selectively, at most.

So how should we handle this subject? Here are a few introductory thoughts:

  • Advent is centered around a Biblical idea.

The season of Advent is a period that leads up to the remembrance of the first coming of Christ.

There is little that is Biblically objectionable related to this basic concept.

One source states: “The word ‘Advent’ is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘coming,’ which is a translation of the Greek word parousia.”[1] Occasionally we even speak of Christ’s second coming in this way—as His second advent.

During Advent, Christians often essentially reconstruct the experience of Old Testament saints who anticipated Christ’s first coming (cf. Luke 2:26, 38). A common way of doing so is by studying the prophecies of that coming, as well as Matthew 1 and Luke 1.[2]

We who expect His second coming can use this time to learn to “wait” (cf. Ps. 27:14; 37:7; 62:1, 5; 130:5; Luke 2:25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; Heb. 9:28; James 5:7); “watch” (cf. Matt. 24:42-43; 25:13; Mark 13:33; 1 Thess. 5:6; Rev. 3:3; 16:15) and “prepare” (cf. Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; Matt. 3:3; 11:10; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4; 7:27) for all things related to that event.[3]

Similar to the child who is eager to unwrap the gifts under the Christmas tree, during Advent we annually relive the tensions of all who waited for Christ’s first coming—from Adam (Gen. 3:15) to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-25, 67-79).

  • Many things associated with the history and practice of Advent are unbiblical or—at best—extra-Biblical.

Like many of the products of church history and its theology—given to us, as they were, across a wide array of traditions from throughout the centuries—there are many aspects of Advent, both historically and presently, that we as Bible-believers would not want to identify with. For instance, the mere mention of “penance… and fasting”[4] in association with the season helps us understand why there would be cause for concern.[5] The Roman Catholic Church also places a great emphasis on Mary during the season of Advent.[6]

In our church tradition, we find little room for any practice that is not explicitly mandated by Scripture—unless it clearly and practically facilitates a Biblical necessity. For instance, we have no problem instituting Sunday School because it helps to accomplish the teaching ministry of the church. But when it comes to placing wreaths, lighting candles or following other extra-Biblical formulas, we generally are genuinely suspicious, and with good reason.

If we are speaking in the presence of new or untaught Christians—especially those of a Catholic background—we may therefore need to be sensitive about using the term Advent without at least providing some context and explanation (cf. 1 Cor. 8:7).

(Read Part 2)

Copyright © 2017 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] <http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/christmas/what-is-advent.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.

[2] The ancient hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” perfectly exemplifies this concept.

[3] These listings of verses are very general. My purpose here is not to deal specifically with the dispensational and prophetic distinctions and implications of all of these passages.

[4] “What is Advent?”, <http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/christmas/what-is-advent.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.

[5] Here is an article from a Roman Catholic perspective that clearly demonstrates an approach to Advent that Bible-believers would find objectionable: “Advent,” <http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/advent.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.

[6] For an example, see: “Following Mary’s Advent Footsteps,” <http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/following-mary-s-advent-footsteps.html>; Internet; accessed 30 Nov. 2015.

This article was first featured on December 3, 2015.

By | 2017-12-01T14:00:40+00:00 December 1st, 2017|Categories: Christmas, Church, Church History, Featured Posts|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

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