Should We Celebrate Advent? (Part 2)

By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.

Editor in Chief

(Read Part 1)

PJSFaithYesterday 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.[7] 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[8] and Lent[9] 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.[10] 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?[11] 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.

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.

[7] 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.

[8] For more on Advent, see: “What is Advent?”, <http://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-Advent.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.

[9] 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.

[10] For one Roman Catholic perspective on Lent, see “FAQs About Lent,” <http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/faq.php>; Internet; accessed 30 Nov. 2015.

[11] For more on the Council of Nicea, see the following: “What occurred at the Council of Nicea?”, <http://www.gotquestions.org/council-of-Nicea.html>; Internet; accessed 29 Nov. 2015.

This article was first featured on December 4, 2015.

By | 2017-12-01T13:57:43+00:00 December 2nd, 2017|Categories: Christmas, Church, Church History, Featured Posts|Tags: , , , |3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Nan Brall December 6, 2015 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Dear Paul,

    We have now come to my favorite part of the year, the month of December. This month is filled with remembrances for me. It is my birthday, December 24th, and my ReBIRTHDAY in Christ, December 8th. But most of all it is the remembrance of Hanukkah. Raised in a Jewish home, Hanukkah for me was one of my most favorite family times. When I came to know the LORD over 45 years ago, it was John 10:22-30 that was so thrilling for me. Jesus turned my darkness into light. I have no particular affinity toward any “holiday,” or “time.” They do not increase the wonder and gratefulness I feel each day. For me, coming to know the Savior was coming from death to life, and to this day, I still marvel and still “celebrate” that reality every morning…..May you have a blessed and wonderful Advent and Christmas, and thank you for being a part of Dr. White’s (who I admire so much) new endeavor.
    Ephesians 2:1-7New American Standard Bible (NASB)
    2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

  2. Paul Scharf December 6, 2015 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for the kind words, Nan!

  3. Carolyn Muentner December 2, 2017 at 10:46 am - Reply

    Interesting. Advent celebration helps especially in these commercialized times to keep us focused on the true meaning and importance of Christmas…cannot imagine Christmas without Advent included. Not certain we would agree re Lent. I remember a discussion…long years ago..with a friend who became a minister. The question was why the Corpus was on the Crucifix but not upon the Protestant cross. My conclusion was that Protestants wanted to focus on the Resurrection…certainly a very valid focus; but that Catholicism had always wanted to remind the congregation of the suffering with which our salvation was purchased. Both perspectives valid, don’t you think?

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