If I said one thing to you about worship in Advent, it would be this:
Advent is not Lent.
repeat this. It’s important.
Advent, the Christian church progressively “grows into” the brightness of the
Christmas celebration. The trajectory of
Advent moves in the direction of Christmas.
The visual image here is the Advent wreath, on which an additional
candle is lit each Sunday of Advent: one
on the first Sunday, two on the second, ... and so on. The light of Advent grows, until it is
absorbed into the light of Christmas.
contrast, Lent moves in the direction, not of Easter, but of Good Friday. Throughout Lent, we move deeper and deeper
into the shadow of the Cross. Easter
comes afterwards, not as part of the basic trajectory of Lent, but as God’s
great reversal of the pain of the Cross.
The basic inner logic of Lent leads to Good Friday, with Easter
following as God’s great Reversal, as God’s great
vindication of the Crucified One. There
is a marked discontinuity between Lent and Easter.
relationship of Advent with Christmas is radically different from the
relationship of Lent with Easter. The
discontinuity is not there. Advent flows
organically into Christmas.
a result, any attempt to remake Advent as a penitential season in the image of
Lent is incompetent liturgy.
things which make perfect liturgical sense in Lent which, when transposed into
Advent, become faintly ridiculous.
example, the hymns of Lent/Holy Week and the hymns of Easter do not
overlap. It makes no sense liturgically
to sing Resurrection-related hymns on Good Friday (or earlier in Lent/Holy Week). Neither does it make sense to sing
Crucifixion-related hymns on Easter Day (or later in the Easter season). When we begin to sing “Christ the Lord is risen today”
be the glory”, we’ve already put “O sacred head sore wounded” and “When I
survey the wondrous cross” to rest at least until the following Lent.
“liturgical fundamentalist” friends will not be happy when I say this, but I
believe that one of the ways the Church “grows into” Christmas during Advent is
in our music during worship. The hymns
of Advent and the hymns of Christmas should be able to co-exist for much of
Advent, with a growing use of specifically Christmas music each Sunday, just as
we light more candles on our Advent wreaths.
example, in a congregation that sings four hymns in worship on a typical
the First Sunday of Advent, it’s appropriate to sing four Advent hymns and no
the Second Sunday of Advent, it’s appropriate to sing three Advent hymns and
one Christmas hymn.
the Third Sunday of Advent, it’s appropriate to sing two Advent hymns and two
the Fourth Sunday of Advent, it’s appropriate to sing one Advent hymn and three
course, this pattern may be interrupted in some congregations because, on one
or more of the Sundays in Advent, the worship service is taken over for a
children’s Christmas pageant, a youth group musical, or the Sunday School’s
annual extravaganza. Nevertheless, the
idea of Advent being a time of “growing into” Christmas is still useful in a
congregation whose Advent involves only three functional worshipping Sundays.
in the words with which I began this post, if I said one thing to you about
worship in Advent, it would be this:
Advent is NOT Lent.
And, if you'd like some of my reflections on Advent and Christmas sitting on your bookshelf as well as on your computer, you may want to buy my book Christmas Lost and Christmas Regained from Amazon.