By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
(Read Part 1)
Yesterday we began a consideration of the question posed in the title. We continue today by picking up with the third introductory concept that we will take into account as we attempt to deal with this issue:
- Most Christians celebrate Advent whether or not they use the term.
If your church offers a series of sermons leading up to—and for the purpose of preparing the congregation for—the coming of Christmas, you are, in essence, observing the basic ideal of Advent.
If you attend a spectacular Christmas play at a large church, or a production of Handel’s Messiah presented by a college choir, you are basically embodying the spirit of Advent.
The Christian who opposes any observance of Advent on the basis of its history and connotations would presumably be consistent only if he or she also rejected the celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. After all, these also come to us by way of that same church calendar (though they are now also adopted into the broader popular culture) rather than by any Biblical mandate or precedent. Of course, any believers are free to do so without retribution and without fear of doing damage to their spiritual walk (cf. Rom. 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17), but few seem to choose that course.
- Advent and Lent are not necessarily equivalent.
Sometimes a Christian will lump “Advent and Lent” together as if they are inseparable, implying that the practice of either is virtually a mark of heresy.
Both of these seasons are certainly part of the liturgical church year as it has come down to us through the centuries, but Advent and Lent each have unique histories. Celebrating one does not logically mandate celebrating the other.
As I have argued above , the central truths behind the Advent season are Scripturally sound. While one could possibly use a similar line of argumentation regarding Lent as I have used here for Advent—and could also attempt to redeem it as a time of focus on and preparation for the remembrance of the cross and the empty tomb—the season of Lent appears to be more integrally connected to objectionable practices, both theologically and in terms of its connotations within the wider culture. Too often these include a reliance on a temporary and external “form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5).
During Lent, professing Christians are tempted to perform actions which they may understand as generating spiritual power and blessing. In comparison, during Advent, Christians—even those who are not being taught clear and careful Biblical doctrine—are largely being called to focus their spiritual energies on the Christ Who alone can bless us with such provisions (cf. Phil. 4:13), and on Biblical truths that have the inherent ability to edify one’s faith (cf. Rom. 10:17).
Thus, my personal convictions would allow me as a pastor and Bible teacher to use the term “Advent” much more freely—although still perhaps carefully among the untaught—than I would feel at liberty to do with the term “Lent.”
- There is value in utilizing aspects of the church year.
Having been originally raised a confessional Lutheran, numerous elements of the traditional church year are still in my bloodstream, and I must admit that I find many of them to be meaningful and helpful.
Take Advent and Christmas, for example. If it were not for these annual celebrations, how often would we teach through important sections of Scripture such as Matthew 1 and 2, or Luke 1 and 2? Perhaps once in a pastorate—or less. How often would we get around to discussing the humanity, hypostatic union or humiliation of Christ, drawing on ancient lessons learned from the Council of Nicea? How often would we look back at important prophetic descriptions of the coming Messiah?
While there is no Biblical command to celebrate the birth of Christ—or to spend time preparing for that remembrance as if living in the days that preceded the event—there is clearly benefit to doing so.
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
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 Arguably, our modern celebration of Christmas (in its best sense—not in terms of its cultural excesses) has more to do with the legacy of Charles Dickens than with either Scripture or the liturgical church calendar. See “Charles Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas?”, <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/2011/12/08/charles-dickens-the-man-who-invented-christmas/>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.
 For more on Lent, see: “What is the meaning of Lent?”, <http://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-Lent.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015; see also “The Early History of Lent” by Nicholas V. Russo, <http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/193181.pdf>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.
This article was first featured on December 4, 2015.