As we move into the season of Advent, I read this recently from the biblical scholar Richard Horsley: “Imagine a complex, multicultural society that annually holds an elaborate winter festival—one that lasts not simply a few days but several weeks. This great festival celebrates the birth of the Lord and Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, a man who is divine. People mark the festival with great abundance—feasting, drinking, gift giving.”
“Public space is festooned with images and decorations of the season. Special public events—song, dance, theater, sporting events—happen almost daily. Local political and religious leaders preside over various rituals and ceremonies. The economy booms, as sales of goods and services flourish as at no other time in the year. The poor are recipients of special philanthropy and generous giving by the rich. In all, the great festival brings a sense of civic unity while honoring the Savior.”
We may be surprised to learn that Horsley is describing a major festival of the Roman Empire that celebrated the Emperor’s divinity and power during the time of Jesus and the early Church. However, it also is a fitting description of the “Holiday Season” as it currently exists in our modern American culture.
As I write this article we have survived “Black Friday”—the biggest shopping day of the year—and now approach “Cyber Monday.” In the midst of our consumer culture, we Christians must ask: Who (or what) is being celebrated and worshipped during this time? What kind of “Savior” are we waiting for?
The season of Advent is an invitation to ponder these questions. Advent isn’t a time for just sitting around, but instead for noticing, embracing, and receiving. It’s not a season of casual waiting, but rather a time for daily disciplines of compassion, gospel living, practicing generosity, truth-telling, and forgiveness.
Advent’s “active waiting” is a direct response to the craze of hectic consumerism that surrounds us. Walter Brueggemann suggests these practices:
· Decrease what is old and habitual and destructive in your life, so that the new life-giving power of Jesus may grow large in you.
· Decrease what is greedy, what is frantic consumerism, for the increase of simple, life- giving sharing.
· Decrease what is fearful and defensive, for the increase of life-giving compassion and generosity.
· Decrease what is hateful and alienating, for the increase of healing and forgiveness, which finally are the only source of life.
Advent is about the great promise of God’s future that we know in Jesus Christ. In the light and expectancy of that promise, we go about our day-to-day work of living faithfully. May the Spirit’s blessing and presence be with you in this holy season!