Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Advent as Little Lent
One way of practicing Advent is as a "little Lent." This has been the practice in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, for example. Fasting has often been involved. Both are also seasons of "preparation" and "anticipation." There is a sense in which Advent is also penitential.
This 15th century Russian icon of the Nativity can also help us with the comparison. Many icons of the nativity of Christ include references to Christ's death. He is born in swaddling clothes/burial shroud. He is born in a manger/crypt. He is born in a cave for animals/tomb with a stone. Mary attends him at his birth and in his death. The iconography of the church has helped maintain the clear theological parallel of incarnation/crucifixion. The creed keeps the two close as well: "He was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."
The levels of resonance during the Advent season are almost too much to bear. There are all of these that I've mentioned, but also many more. The Advent season itself bears the weight of doubling anticipation, with texts on the "second coming" while adventing the first.
Add to all this the cultural weight of the season. Warding off winter by way of shopping, merry-making, and gift-giving. All those little traditions, like Advent calendars, Christmas décor, and Santa. If Advent is a little Lent, it is yet heavy.
In the spirit of Advent as a little Lent, I am undertaking a few disciplines:
1) Reading only Scripture and commentaries- no other reading.
2) Simplifying, no shopping, except towards the end of giving thoughtful gifts.
3) Attending to my responsibility to give of my wealth to those in need, to the poor.
4) Eating together with our congregation each Wednesday, and praying Vespers together.
5) Meditating on icons, and praying, especially the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a poor sinner."