Friday, December 9, 2016

(Not very) Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #13: Ten Things about Advent Folks Should Know

(Not very) Ironic Advent 2016 Meditation #13:
 Ten Things about Advent Folks Should Know

I wrote most of this a couple of years, thinking I would clear up, once and for all, people's misunderstandings about and, frankly, inappropriate behavior during Advent. A friend of mine had written, "my peeps aren't into Advent. How would you explain it, in ten things or less?" OK, she didn't say ten things. I did. Because, as some of you know, if I don't get form for my wild thoughts, everything just goes straight to hell.

Anyway, or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke likes to say, my friend is the kind of person who actually says peeps without irony or italics. But we are still friends enough that I stop and meet her at a Waffle House when I'm passing through wherever she happens to be, which used to be Arkansas. If you've ever stopped at a Waffle House in Arkansas just to talk to a friend and eat, you will understand.

As I said, I feel like I need to go over this again since some people still haven't got Advent figured out even though I posted much of this back in 2013. Come on, people. Pay better attention this time. And share it with your children's children if you know what I mean. Talk about in your rising up and your lying down. And at Waffle House. But I don't recommend the bathrooms at Waffle House.

Here goes. 

1. Advent is not not technically part of Christmas. In my church, someone might take you out back and give you a stern talking to (and, if a repeat offense, excommunicate you)  if you try to sing a so-called Christmas carol during Advent.* "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is an Advent hymn (suitably, in a minor key) not a Christmas carol. [*For that matter, most Christmas carols are not Christmas carols, but I'll leave that for a Christmas meditation.] 

2. Candles are not the only ritual practice of Advent, although they can be very meaningful. Especially a Mary candle and a John the Baptist candle. The confession of sin is an integral part of advent, as are doing penance, fasting, and other reminders of our emptiness and need for the coming One. The manger should be empty in a nativity set. If Mary and Joseph are anywhere, they are traveling.

3. Advent is a time of preparation (focused waiting) for the coming of the kingdom. 

4. Advent has a weird (ironic) split time scheme because we wait for the coming of the kingdom (announced by John the Baptist, brought by the Messiah) and the coming of the kingdom (announced by the prophets and not yet brought by the Messiah). This has been known to drive Ben Camino crazy at times. But good crazy.

5. Advent, therefore, can be a bit confusing. It is interesting to me that the church for a couple of thousand years has not tried to square that circle. It just nods knowingly at us as we say, "this is hard to understand." As if to say, "
Yes, my child, isn't that nice?" 
6. Gift giving is not an Advent thing. Or a Christmas thing really. It's an Epiphany thing (Right, what's Epiphany? Don't make me get into that here). On the other hand, really, unless you are spoiling someone, I think you could and should be giving some gifts every day. I will say here and now, that if you want to take some cool stuff to a homeless shelter or a nursing home or any number of other places, those gifts will be a wonderful way of doing Advent, Christmas, and all the rest.

7. Although you might need to "do Christmas things" (or think you do) within a culture which has made Christmas into something that lasts throughout November and December, just know that you aren't "doing Advent" when you are doing them. In fact, one way of "doing Advent" is by not doing Christmas until Christmas (see the empty manger in the nativity above; see singing Advent hymns instead of Christmas carols). People really used to go out and get trees on Christmas Eve. And keep them up for the entire Christmas season (that is the twelve days and nights of Christmas from Christmas Day until Epiphany). And clearly they were better people for it. OK, I have no evidence of that actually. They were just more in favor with Ben Camino.  I will confess to this, however: I do watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" during December. But I am always aware of doing something inappropriate.

8. Advent Calendars can be a helpful way of thinking about Advent themes but not if they are really Christmas calendars on Advent time scheme. That means, an Advent calendar covers the days of Advent, not the first 24 days of December. Also, there is no specific relation between chocolate angels and Advent. Here is a link to a  company that pitches "ritual" and sells Advent calendars and says the thing that is not many times in its little ad. For example, "the concept of Advent can be traced back to the 19th Century"!! And, the primitive old Advent calendars "weren't hiding much more than images and biblical verses" (contrasted with the chocolate-filled ones that inspired RITUAL to sell an Advent Calendar full of very expensive cosmetics!). Link to "Ritual"

9. Advent themes are the coming of the kingdom, the longing for the kingdom, waiting for the kingdom, lament over absence of the kingdom, and a celebration of some of the instruments of the coming of the kingdom (especially Mary but also angels, prophets, John the Baptist and family, etc.). We hear prophecies of the peacable kingdom from Isaiah (second Sunday), of the end of the world from St. Matthew (first Sunday), of the coming of the Messiah from John the Baptist (second Sunday). And we hear Mary's Magnificat. Very little, in fact, about chocolate angels or cosmetics.

10. Advent is a liturgical season best understood within the context of an entire liturgical year. Otherwise, it becomes, de facto, a kind of extension of Christmas (a version of religious consumerism--if twelve days of Christmas are good, why not have forty?). It parallels Lent in some ways. It mirrors Epiphany. It establishes a distinct rhythm for the Christian year. It is a great example of the shaping power of liturgy, asking folks to pay attention to what's going on in the readings, the music, the rituals, because the distinctions and the differences matter. There's a lot of "coming and come on-ing" in Advent readings. And a lot of waiting. And a lot of focus on the future.

11. I know I said Ten Things. But I also wanted to say this. Some will say, there is no right way to celebrate Advent. The only important thing is that your heart is in the right place. I think, though, that the purpose of Advent is to make you realize that you have pretty much no idea of whether you  heart is in the right place or not. In fact, you are probably the worst judge in heaven and earth of that. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't have new practices (like ironic advent meditations, especially) or a renewable liturgy (like entire services of lament and moan--an idea I had and still think we need); but I think it ought to mean that those things are informed by the established traditions not done in ignorance of them.

11b. On the other hand, it might not matter anyway. It seems like a lot of work to make all these distinctions if the main thing is getting presents. Plus, if we all get it together, I'm not sure there will be much of an audience for faithful old Ben Camino. Well, I have a feeling that won't stop him, but you know what they say. 

11c. Almost finally, a personal note to my friends. See? Who says Ben Camino can't be warm and fuzzy on occasion? OK, just this. It's really getting cold this weekend and early next week. No, colder than you are thinking right now. Can you say Arctic Freeze. So, if you were planning on starting that new Advent practice ( pretty well in line with ancient traditions) of making a pilgrimage with your pregnant spouse on a donkey to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania or anywhere else they have an empty manger, you might want to really think it through first. I don't know if it's worth freezing your ass for the sake of religion when you might just as well stay warm and cozy at home and knit a cute baby hat for baby Jesus (who is NOT in the manger yet!). 

11d. But seriously, thanks for reading friends. If this were a chocolate or cosmetic Advent calendar from "RITUAL," we'd be half way through! Unfortunately, there are sixteen more days till Christmas! But never fear, your pal Ben Camino will stay close to ironize the entire season.

Behold, the Advent "Ritual" Calendar 

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