Remembering the Advent season

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The Rev. Timothy Paul Jones kept hearing one thing when -- four weeks before Christmas -- he brought a wreath and some purple and pink candles into his Southern Baptist church near Tulsa, Okla.

And all the people said: "Advent? Don't Catholics do that?"This prickly response wasn't all that unusual, in light of the history of Christmas in America, said Jones, who now teaches leadership and church ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"In the dominant American, Protestant traditions of this country, we've never had a Christian calendar that told us anything about Advent and the 12 days of Christmas," explained Jones, author of "Church History Made Easy."

"We went from the Puritans, and they hardly celebrated Christmas at all, to this privatized, individualized approach to the season that you see all around us. ... If you mention the church calendar many people think you've gone Papist or something. They really don't care what Christians did through the centuries."

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeChurch Year / Liturgical SeasonsAdvent* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryOther Churches

Posted December 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm

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1. Kevin Maney+ wrote:

On Monday I preached a funeral homily for my father-in-law at a Southern Baptist Church in NC. Advent hope was its basic theme and it was very well received by those in attendance. I didn’t feel any cold pricklies from that particular congregation. Just the opposite, in fact.

December 17, 2:16 pm | [comment link]
2. Jon wrote:

“In the dominant American, Protestant traditions of this country, we’ve never had a Christian calendar that told us anything about Advent and the 12 days of Christmas,” explained Jones, author of “Church History Made Easy.”

Well, for nearly two centuries there was this thing called the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.  It was a pretty huge part of Protestanism in this country.  And it was a place that was deeply rooted in the church calendar and church history and tradition.

December 17, 3:53 pm | [comment link]
3. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Jon, I read your comment with agreement and lament the deep truth of your use of the past tense.

The Rabbit.

December 17, 4:08 pm | [comment link]
4. Uh Clint wrote:

This comes as quite a surprise to me.  I grew up in the Methodist church during the 60’s, and we always had an Advent wreath in the church (and at home!) and “celebrated the season”.  We weren’t particularly “high” or “low”, just what I’d describe as an average congregation.

I’d like to know where the notion of Advent as a “Catholic” observance comes from.  It sounds to me like the authors come from a background in which they themselves didn’t experience it, so Q.E.D. neither do any other Protestants - ergo, it *must* be “papist”.  Interesting logic…...............

December 17, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
5. Frances S Scott wrote:

LCMS may not be a “dominate” church in the USA so my comment may not be worth much, but….
Advent and Lent were so important to us that we had a full one hour worship service every Wednesday evening during the season and almost all of us were present every time.  What I have experienced in the Episcopal Church since 1986 is thin soup by comparison.  The last episcopal parish of which I was a part had a tradition observing “The Stations of the Cross” every Wednesday during Lent and would not consider doing anything else even though only 3 to 4 people showed up…the same 3 - 4 every time.
Frances Scott

December 17, 4:23 pm | [comment link]
6. Fr. J. wrote:

I dont think that you can assume that denominations that practice some of the liturgical calendar today always have in the past.  Until the 1960’s weekly Eucharist was not practiced in the majority of PECUSA churches, much less Methodists.  I doubt they celebrated Advent either.  That so many TEC and UMC churches now do so many “catholicy” things is a product of the liturgical movement.  With the exception of Lutherans (who had their own vacillations in certain areas) in the West it is only the Catholic Church that consistently maintained all of these practices.  So, there is nothing odd about calling them Catholic.  In fact, if the Catholic Church had dropped the Advent wreath, I doubt anybody would be using it today.

December 17, 5:33 pm | [comment link]
7. drjoan wrote:

For a short time we attended an American Baptist Church where the pastor had been raised an Episcopalian.  We found it amusing that he couldn’t remember the term “Advent” for those few Sundays before Christmas! 
Moreover, I tell people I celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas—and that starts on Christmas Day!  It actually gives me a reason to get my cards out AFTER Christmas.  And to celebrate Epiphany (with an Epiphany cake!)

December 17, 5:35 pm | [comment link]
8. Uh Clint wrote:

Fr. J,

I wrote from first-hand experience.  I note that you make statements (“Until the 1960’s weekly Eucharist was not practiced in the majority of PECUSA churches, much less Methodists.”  “I doubt they celebrated Advent either”) but you haven’t cited a source or authority for them.  Can you please provide specifics to support your position?  I frequently hear statements of this nature, but I don’t know what their source is.

December 17, 5:53 pm | [comment link]
9. wamark wrote:

The Advent wreath, whether people are aware of it or not, has its origins, like the Christmas Tree, not in the Catholic Church but in northern European Lutheranism.

December 17, 6:45 pm | [comment link]
10. Grandmother wrote:

I don’t know about the Methodists (altho my daughter and family are), nor truly baptists of any kind, BUT, i do know this, usually ANYTHING that smacks of anything more than a “special program”, of music usually if frowned on by the pentecostals that I still know.

Candles are proper for weddings and perhaps Christmas, but “formality” is not “in’..  Even my Baptist (another daughter) granddaughter couldn’t understand why we “prayed out of books”.. LOL That is until she went to church with me, and discovered that “formality” was not all bad, and that our “book prayers” pretty much covered anything anyone would pray about. LOL

As for church history, i have begged! our vicar to spend some “education” time on the Church Fathers, and also the true Church History..  He won’t do it for some reason, and he’s Nashotah House.

Oh well,

December 17, 7:09 pm | [comment link]
11. Kevin Maney+ wrote:

I grew up in the Methodist Church in the 60s and we most certainly observed Advent, much like the way you describe. Most of the other churches in the West Ohio Conference did too. In fact, I remember being irritated in the 80s (I think; maybe it was in the late 70s) when they switched the candles in the Advent wreath to all blue instead of the purple/pink configuration I grew up with. Given that the UMC is organized into conferences, I suspect that whatever Advent practices are observed (or not) are conference-wide.

December 17, 7:20 pm | [comment link]
12. Branford wrote:

Uh Clint - I grew up in ECUSA in the Diocese of South Carolina in the ‘60s-‘70s - we had Eucharist once a month and Morning Prayer the other weeks. It was not until the new prayer book (1979) that weekly Eucharist became the norm. I knew about Advent - I can’t remember whether we had an Advent wreath at church or not (we didn’t at home), but the season of Advent was part of the church year.

December 17, 7:23 pm | [comment link]
13. physician without health wrote:

Frances #5, in LCMS, there is still a formal hour long service every Wednesday during Advent and Lent.  At Ascension here in Tucson, we have one at 1PM and one at 7PM.  I can’t say that everyone goes, but attendance is not half bad, and the services are a huge blessing!

December 17, 7:51 pm | [comment link]
14. Frances S Scott wrote:

Thank you for that reasurrance!  Since I live some 1.5 hours from the nearest LCMS church I’m a little out of touch.  But I have beautiful memories and pictures of my four little ones (1967) gathered round our home advent wreath with the youngest snuffing the candles.

Side note:  My husband is a retired ELCA pastor and still on the mailing lists.  The entire 8 page November/December 2009 issue of “seeds for the parish” is about Lent!  I wonder if sombody slipped a cog there.
Frances Scott

December 17, 8:55 pm | [comment link]
15. stjohnsrector wrote:

The local LCMS church here has been decorated for Christmas since mid November and singing Christmas carols too. Glad to hear this isn’t generally true for the LCMS. Methodists as a offshoot of the C of E would also understand Advent. The baptist pastor’s lament about the Protestant ignorance of the history of the Church would seem to me to be foundational to it.

December 18, 12:02 am | [comment link]
16. Ross wrote:

My sister goes to a Covenant church, and a few years ago they decided they would celebrate Advent—which was a fairly big innovation for that particular church.

Only they decided, after examining their calendar, that it would be more convenient if they started it a week early.  So they did.

My sister, who was raised Episcopalian, had more or less this reaction: “Bu—bu—but you can’t do that!”  To which they all looked at her in genuine puzzlement and asked, “Whyever not?”  In the end she was unable to dissuade them, but she muttered about it all the way until Christmas.

Who am I?  Visit my web page or my blog  to find out.

December 18, 12:29 am | [comment link]
17. USCAE wrote:

gone Papist or something. They really don’t care what Christians did through the centuries.”

Oh the irony.  “Going Papist” is exactly what most Christians have indeed been/done through the centuries. 

#4 I’d like to know where the notion of Advent as a “Catholic” observance comes from.

Try this: for early citations found in the Roman; Gallican; Ambrosian; and Mozarabic Rites: which one must concede are “Catholic” Rites and predate protestantism by roughly a millennium.

December 18, 4:31 pm | [comment link]

© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.

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