Getting ready. That’s what Advent is about.
At church we lit the first candle of Advent this morning, and, as I write on this Sunday evening, I’m sitting in a quiet house, enfolded by the warm glow of the light from our Christmas tree.
I didn’t grow up observing Advent or, for that matter, any of the other seasons of the “Christian calendar.” I was unaware that there was such a thing, and in our non- or anti-denomination denomination, there most certainly was not. I was blessed by “our” folks and still love them, but our bunch back then wasn’t even very sure about celebrating Christmas as a “religious” holiday. We weren’t the only ones. Chalk that, and a lot of this, up to our common Puritan ancestors, I think, who tended to be suspicious of both color and celebration. But, honestly, I need to read more history to be sure I’m being fair with them.
As I grew older, I suppose I became vaguely aware that Lent was a time preceding Easter and, I thought, seemed to have something maybe to do with eating fish on Fridays. What else? I didn’t know.
As is the case with all of us pretty much all of the time, I needed very badly to learn a little more history to be able to make more sense out of the present and plot a wise course for the future. And, as a Christian, I desperately needed to read more church history for the very same reasons.
I also needed to learn some things other members of Christ’s family could teach me if we’d just try to cross over our walls occasionally and visit a bit. Not only do we honor our Lord by doing so (he prayed poignantly for the unity of God’s people, you know, in John 17), we also put ourselves in a position to learn some things. We might or might not choose to make some changes in our own situations, but at least we might come to understand more about the decisions and practices of other folks who love and honor their Lord every bit as much as our own little group does. The guy who said that cats and dogs who try spending more time with each other often find it to be a very broadening experience was on to something.
Differences among Christians regarding the keeping—or not—of special days is nothing new. When the Holy Spirit made it clear that God wanted the doors of his church opened wide to both Jews and Gentiles (the gulf between them was vastly wider than that between, say, a Baptist and a Lutheran) well, you never saw cats and dogs have a harder time figuring out how to live under one roof.
Ironically, then it was the more conservative folks who felt duty-bound to observe special feast days, and folks on the other end of the spectrum who felt perfectly free not to. Read the amazing Romans 14 to see God’s incredible counsel to his kids about dealing with differences. Don’t stand in judgment on each other, he says. Make a decision that you believe honors Christ. In love, let your brothers and sisters do the same. And don’t you kids dare look down on each other or try to make laws for one another! You’ve got one Master. You’re not him.
By the way, it turns out that Lent has precious little to do with fish. Advent does have something to do with candles (and I like candles). But both have a lot to do with preparing our hearts to more fully receive what God is doing. Personally, I like that a lot. Personally, I need that a lot.
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Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.