Making Sense of Advent

Today’s comment comes from Andrea.  She wrote: “I would love to hear How Christians of progressive faith navigate Advent. I’m assuming most don’t believe that three wisemen followed a donkey to a stable filled with clean sheep and smelling of wood soap?”

While there isn’t just ONE Progressive take on the Advent and Christmas seasons (yes, they are separate), let me offer these words as a jumping-off point for how some Progressives approach the seasons.

If I were to use the language of Marcus Borg for a minute, Marcus would say that when we talk about matters such as biblical stories and traditions there are at least two ways we can talk about them.  We can talk about them as factual (meaning we spend our time debating whether the accounts happened EXACTLY as recorded), or we can talk about their meanings.

Progressives, of course, will talk about facts.  For instance, they will quickly point out there is no mention of the number of wisemen/magi/kings in the biblical texts.  They will mention that the notion there were three grew out of an early assumption that because there were three gifts there must have been three wisemen/magi/kings.  They will also note that within the global Christian community, there is disagreement about how many wisemen/magi/kings there were.  Those in the West say three; many of those in the East – especially in the Syriac churches – say twelve.

And unlike many Traditionalists – who fold the accounts of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke together to craft one story – many Progressives will talk about the two versions of the Christmas story separately.  They do so in order to talk about how each Gospel had theological agendas that emphasize a different aspect of the tradition.  The Gospel of Matthew, for instance, includes a telling of the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt to escape persecution by Herod while the Gospel of Luke doesn’t include that story.  Matthew (a Gospel written primarily to appeal to an audience steeped in Jewish tradition) wants to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Hebrew Scripture.  The flight to Egypt picks up on a passage from Hosea 11:1 (“… out of Egypt I have called My son”).  Luke’s audience, on the other hand, is more Gentile and less Jewish.  This Gospel is slightly less concerned with presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and – therefore –less compelled to tie Jesus to Egypt.

Over the last few years, however, many Progressives realized that ONLY talking about the factual dimensions of the Christmas story left them cynical, bitter, and jaded – and robbed them of the joy of the season, leaving some feeling spiritually adrift.

As a result, some Progressively have grown increasingly comfortable moving beyond a conversation about fact and embracing conversations about the meanings contained in the Christmas story that inform their experience of Advent.

What do these conversations look like?  Here are a few bulleted points about these conversations.

  • These conversations start, for instance, by talking about how while Jesus was initially welcomed by adherents of one religious tradition (Judaism), Advent reminds us that God’s deepest desire for us it to bring us together across lines (i.e. Jew and Gentile).
  • The conversations also remind us that our Christian faith invites us to think about the ways in which God’s love is concrete (or Incarnational) and not purely abstract or ethereal.
  • The conversations remind us that one of the oldest biblical themes is that God initially comes not to the best and the brightest, but to the meekest and most humble. Those on the margins hold a special place in the heart of God.  And while God may enter human experience/consciousness from the margins, God’s radical love and grace spread throughout all social locations.

Those are just a few of the conversations through which Progressives can joyously – and excitedly! -connect with the spirit of Advent and Christmas.

So what about you?  How do you bring your Progressive commitments to the seasons of Advent and Christmas?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to Making Sense of Advent

  1. Andrea Frazer says:

    Thank you for this. I have still not read Marcus Borg but going through Rachel Held Evan’s Inspired which seems very aligned with Borg’s view of scripture. I’m always surprised at how steeped you are in the texts and how much I still get to learn about what each gospel writer’s intent was for its audience. That there ARE contradictions and not just one way to read something. For me there is so much hope in the season, but because I am now moving from certainty to mystery with my faith, there is the sense at times of “I don’t know WHAT to believe.” But then when I open myself to the presence of God in the dark, there is so much light and presence that I can’t help but feel that I am following my own star, placed in the sky by my own personal savior, that is leading me closer and closer to home. During the season of Advent, I plan to “Let Go” of my need to be 100% sure of everything and be more like those wisemen, 12 or 3, that just know God has called them toward something better. I only must listen and go.

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