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 d├ęcor, 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."


  1. I'm glad you have a plan for yourself. I just get grumpy about it, sometimes. :-( But a plan like yours wouldn't last a day in my life. Are your going to give up reading blogs, the web and newspapers too?

    Be sure to look at

  2. You get grumpy about my plan? Why? My reading expectation for myself had only to do with books- not the paper or other things like that. I don't tend to read that many blogs or newspapers anyway- just the Sunday Times and some local news.

  3. no,no,no....I get grumpy about the over comercialization and the business of the Christmas season (ie "Are you ready for Christmas?" being said when people mean, did you bake, did you shop, did you decorate?)

    Actually, I wrote a comment that was more complete, but it disappeared into cyber space. sorry for the misunderstanding.

    I was trying to say that I get irritated about what happens without having a counter plan.

  4. The difficulty I have with Advent being a little Lent, is that I can't seem to equate the somberness of Lent with the eagerness of Advent.

    I have much the same issue with the Sundays "IN" Lent. Those Sundays are not lenten days, they are as we say in the church "Little Easters." Yet the church looks upon the Sundays during Lent as times to put away our alleluias.

    Like many in the church, I continue to wrestle with the balancing act of reflecting on what was, while looking forward to what is to come.

    I like your plan for Advent. Perhaps such a plan would offer me time to further wrestle with those parallels you pointed out.

  5. Maybe we need a little more Lent in Advent, and a little more Advent in Lent?

    I'm not convinced that putting the alleluias away during Lent is that important or necessary. It often gets enforced in a very legalistic manner.

    I do think Advent is more somber than we often are willing to admit. If we simply put ourselves in the shoes and experience of Mary and Joseph during this time, maybe that would help. Poor and traveling pregnant for a census? Pondering all these things in our hearts? Bearing Christ and a prophet in our very bodies? Somber stuff indeed.

  6. Anonymous6:13 AM

    It's certainly a deep problem in liturgical reflection--do we pretend as if Christ hasn't yet come in Advent? do we act remoto Christo (removed from Christ) during Holy Week? Even if celebrating Passover puts us "back" at the moment before the time when we entered the promised land, we are not wholly there.

    I posted, long ago, on this blog a reflection on Easter Vigil that addresses this discussion.


  7. It sounds like a wonderful way to observe the season.

    I've noticed on more than one blog that folks are somehow equating introspection and reflection with somberness and/or sadness. The two aren't really same. One can be perfectly happy and fully aware that Christ has come to us as the Incarnate One while at the same time using Advent to prepare for him anew, both at Christmas and at the Last Day.