By Steve Manskar
Every time I pick up an Advent devotional book I soon realize the contents has very little to do with the theological themes of Advent. Let's be honest. The books that are promoted and sold as Advent devotionals are really Christmas devotionals. They completely miss the point of the season they are intended to help the reader engage. The dominant message in the vast majority of Advent books is that the four weeks leading to Christmas are for preparing our hearts and homes for the birth of Christ. It's all very good stuff. I"m all for helping people focus their hearts and lives on Christ. But who is the Christ we are preparing to follow? Is he the sweet baby asleep on the hay? Or is he the crucified and risen Lord of the universe who is coming to judge the living and the dead?
When the church truncates Advent and reduces it to syrupy, sentimental waiting and preparing for the birth of Jesus in your heart it annually misses the one season of the liturgical calendar the focuses on the destination toward which this world is moving.
Laurence Hull Stookey says this much better than I can in his book Calendar: Christ's Time for The Church: "The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things. For 'end' means not only the 'end of time,' but the central purpose or goal of creation. We are not aimlessly wandering in a wilderness, even though we may be tempted to think so. Rather, history is headed somewhere by direction (though not dictation) from God. It is necessary that the liturgical year begin with this focus on a central, holy intention; for otherwise the story of jesus, which is about to be rehearsed from conception and birth to death and resurrection, may seem less than what it is: the deliberate fulfilling of divine purpose , worked out through historical process. Only this focus on the central purpose of God in history can keep the story of Jesus from falling into the superstitious or almost magical understandings that often afflict the Christian community, on the one hand, or into the trivialization and irrelevance that characterize secular interpretation, on the other hand."
If the church is to be missional, which means that it is engaged in and participating with God's mission for the world, then it needs to take Advent seriously. A missional church needs to remember and rehearse annually the goal that is before us: the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. When we begin the liturgical year focused on the wrong things, it is no wonder we are where we find ourselves today.