This Advent I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors, representing a variety of faith traditions, to submit a brief Advent Reflection under this year’s theme: “Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?”
The next featured Pastor is Dan Bollerud, Pastor of Christ Our Savior Lutheran in south Anchorage. Pastor Dan constantly challenges his parishioners and guests by involving them in fresh ways of worship and acts of reimagination. His words below are an example of his fresh thinking, a clear voice to contextually counter the sellout of Advent and Christmas.[img_assist|nid=163256|title=Pastor Dan Bollerud|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=350]
Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?
Advent is a time of preparation for the Christmas season, and therein lies the problem. In days of yore, when Christmas began on December 25th and extended for twelve days to the January 6th Epiphany, the liturgical time of Advent made sense. The days were dark and the nights darker as we moved toward winter solstice and the texts of the common lectionary reflected both the theology and the mood of the day. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) with its emphasis on thieves in the night and John the Baptist’s is a bit reminiscent of a Christmas song, but not one we sing in church. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming to town…. And he is a bit torqued off”. It is a theme however that is best left in a Dickens tale and time. As the church stubbornly holds onto its Advent traditions, some even to the point of not singing any Christmas carols until Christmas day, or in some flights of Gospel freedom, Christmas Eve, those in our pews and those who wouldn’t be caught dead in them, go off to embrace the theology of the local shopping mall or on-line store. In the process, the church in general, being painted with the broad brush strokes of some, is deemed quaint at best, and irrelevant to most. But there is something about that darkness.
The days, at least for a few more weeks are indeed getting shorter and the nights are getting darker. At the same time the quest for the false memory of the Hallmark Christmas past in the midst of an ever shrinking middle class and the constant beating of the news networks drums of fear, makes relevant, perhaps even more than in the time of Dickens, the need for a new Advent theology. But any good theology, in order to be heard, must also be contextual. We in the church must speak to the darkness in the midst of the cheap glitter of tinsel and this year’s ‘must have’ purchase. It is time to both shed and confront the false memory of the Hallmark Christmas as well as the “you better watch out” theology of Advent past.
In the Advent season in our world, Christmas carols connect with where people’s heads and lives are at. In our world today, Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. I know there are some stores who start on Thanksgiving Day, but they for the most part are representatives of the anti-Christ and are destined to burn in hell for all eternity anyway so I will just ignore them, as should you. Needless to say, our communities are bombarded with Santa theology from Black Friday on and while there heads are in that space, they need to hear a bit of ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’. Failure to provide this simply hands the theology over to Santa and commercialism while we in the church bid our time until the 25th to present our Babe in Bethlehem theology to a world who is so “over it” they could care less.
I certainly do not claim to have the answer, but for the above mentioned reasons this is what I am trying to do. At Christ Our Savior Lutheran we use the Narrative Lectionary (NL) and start singing Christmas carols the beginning December. As mentioned before, Christmas Carols connect with where people’s heads and hearts are at and, at the very least, inject a bit of Babe in Bethlehem into the theme of spending on better and newer Christmas bells, sleigh rides and Xboxes. The Narrative Lectionary is a four year series of readings, which this year includes the fiery furnace, the valley of dry bones and the return from exile before landing on the word made flesh the Sunday before Christmas. These are stories of hope in the midst of darkness and despair. These are stories that remind us that even when the reality of Christmas is but a faint glimmer of that false Hallmark memory, we are not alone. The God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is with us in the midst of the heat, breathes life into those lifeless old bones and brings us home again to the grace, love and life of the word of God made flesh.
So I would ask you to confront the darkness, which is indeed darkness. But do so in a language and style that is where people are at, and where in the midst of that darkness, are able to hear and feel the love and the presence of God.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.