The season of Advent calls us to remember the incarnation of Christ into our world while anticipating his future return. Yet what does Advent have to tell us about our present “now and not yet” moment?
In her new book Advent: The Season of Hope, priest, author, and Trinity Forum Senior Fellow Tish Harrison Warren draws our attention towards the ways the church reflects and represents the incarnation of Christ, offering hope and encounters with embodied love in the time between Christmas and Jesus’ awaited return. Tish’s new book is part of the new Fullness of Time series edited by Esau McCaulley. We held an Online Conversation with Tish Friday, December 1 to explore the hope that Advent offers.
Thank you to our co-host for this event, InterVarsity Press!
Online Conversation | Tish Harrison Warren | December 1, 2023
Cherie Harder: Let me just add my own welcome to all of you joining us for today’s Online Conversation with Tish Harrison Warren on “Advent: The Season of Hope.” I’d also just like to thank InterVarsity press for co-sponsoring and co-hosting this program with us. It’s really a delight to be able to partner with you, and we’re delighted that over 1,900 of you have registered for today’s conversation. I’d like to especially welcome our more than 230 first-time-ever registrants. Thank you for doing that and for joining us today, as well as our 232 international guests who are registered, joining us from at least 33 different countries that we know of, ranging from Iceland and India to Serbia and Senegal. So thank you for joining us from across the miles and across the time zones.
If you are one of those first-time registrants or otherwise new to the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith, and to offer programs like this Online Conversation to do so, to help all of us come to better know the Author of the answers. And we hope today’s program will be a small taste of that for you today.
One of the things we try to do at the Trinity Forum is to engage questions and ideas that are both timeless and timely, and today’s topic certainly fits the bill. This Sunday, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, is the first day of Advent, which heralds both the beginning of the New Year in the liturgical calendar, as well as a time of waiting as we anticipate the incarnation, the coming of God with us. It’s a season of both preparation and penitence, of paradox and hope, which falls during the darkest time of the year yet points to the coming of the light, and looks back to the first coming of Christ while also anticipating his arrival. And while it’s widely observed among many Christian denominations, including among Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other churches, it’s fair to say that there remains no small amount of confusion over what the season is, what it means, or why it matters. And so it seemed a particularly apt time to ponder the spiritual significance of the season of Advent as it begins this weekend.
And I’m delighted to introduce our guest today, who has literally written the book on precisely that subject. Tish Harrison Warren is, I am very proud to say, a senior fellow with the Trinity Forum, as well as an Anglican priest and a writer. She has served as a columnist for The New York Times, and as well as contributing to publications as diverse as Christianity Today, Religion News Service, Art House America, Comment, The Point, and many others. And her several books include Liturgy of the Ordinary, her very first work, which was also Christianity Today‘s 2018 book of the year, Prayer in the Night, and her new work on Advent, which we’ve invited her here today to discuss.
Tish Harrison Warren: Thanks. I’m always glad to talk to the Trinity Forum.
Cherie Harder: Well, we are really glad to get to talk with you today, Tish. And so as we start out, it seems to make sense to kind of start with the basics. And I want to just call out the fact that I know we have probably watching today everyone ranging from theologians who are deeply immersed in and experts on the meaning of Advent and people like myself with a Baptist background where I kind of just grew up assuming that Advent was sort of a synonym for the Christmas season. So as we start, I thought it’d be helpful to basically just ask you, what is Advent and what’s the history? How did it come to be?
Tish Harrison Warren: Okay. Well, so Advent— I am going to speak, like you said, to a broad range of people. I’m sure there are people on this call who know more about Advent and its history than I do. And there may be people who this is super new and think mostly of Advent calendars. That’s kind of the way that Advent has made its way into our popular culture. There’s sort of a New-Age store down the street from my house in Austin—we have those kinds of things—that had an Advent calendar, which I sort of found hilarious. I was like, huh, this is interesting. This has permeated so deeply into our culture that it’s really disconnected in any way from anything like the Christian story.
But Advent for the Church is a liturgical season, as you said. It begins four Sundays before Christmas, or the Feast of the Incarnation, the celebration of Jesus coming to earth. And it’s a later practice relative to Lent and Easter. It came after that. But Christmas was [earlier than Advent]. Christmas seems like it was— the first time that it’s mentioned in an extant text that we have is around the third century, but it is sort of mentioned as—the date anyway—was mentioned as something that sort of was broadly held. So it was probably in wide practice before then. But around the third century.
Advent emerges soon after Christmas. So sometime around the fourth century, maybe the early fourth century, but it looked very different place to place. It wasn’t really until the seventh century that we began to see Advent more routinized in terms of, you know, four Sundays before Christmas. And so this sort of the time frame set out more clearly, and also things like the readings, the Scripture readings, and the themes of Advent begin to be a little more solidified. And those largely continue—I mean, that is the shape of Advent even today. But it began probably around the fourth century and very consciously as sort of an answer to Lent. You know, Lent is to Easter. Lent is a time of preparation for that feast, for that celebration. And Advent emerged as a similar idea. In eastern churches and Orthodox churches, it’s called actually Little Lent, a way to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. I think since the fourth century, Advent has changed in tone and emphasis some. So I would say it’s probably more different than Lent now even than it was then, but it was kind of created with that same pattern in mind.
Cherie Harder: Let me ask you about that. So, you know, you mentioned that it in many ways paralleled Lent. And I guess that raises the question of why. Why did the Church Fathers believe that preparation, in the case of both Christmas and Easter, should precede celebration, and that essentially fasting should precede feasting?
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah. Well, okay. So I think there is a theological reason. And I also think there’s almost a—I don’t want to separate this from theology—but I think there’s kind of a deep wisdom to it. In a theological sense, I think there’s an idea that you don’t just walk into the throne room of a king, right? There is this sense of preparation, of sobriety, in entering that—and in repentance. You know, that before we celebrate, we also quiet our hearts and practice repentance, practice examination of our own self so that when we enter into celebration, we’re doing it with, I hope, not the sense that we’ve scrubbed our self clean—because the gospel is that we really can’t, that we need rescue—but that we’ve been honest about who we are, that we don’t do this flippantly. We don’t do this lightly. That we prepare our hearts and are truthful with our self and with God and with those around us about who we are and the ways we’ve blown it, the ways we’ve wronged others, the ways that we have failed to welcome the coming King into our life. And not just as individuals, but also as systems in the world and the ways that the world does not reflect and the church does not reflect the hope we have in Jesus and the truth that we found in Jesus. So making theological space for repentance is always something we do before celebration or welcoming, you know, welcoming the King or welcoming the resurrection.
The other thing, I think—the deep, almost intuitive wisdom in it, I think—is that there is a sense, I think, in American culture where we want to sort of run breathlessly from celebration to celebration. We want to keep going and keep things busy and up-tempo. And we don’t want to [make space] because it seems in some ways almost un-American. I think that there’s an optimism and an activism in America observed from really the very beginning that is good. I mean, it’s something that’s allowed people to do amazing, amazing things and innovations and technology and walk into a vast wilderness and make a new country. At the same time, with that can come almost a pathological optimism, a toxic positivity, as the kids say now. And also just an unwillingness to admit the failures, the responsibilities that we have that we have not lived up to, the ways that we have harmed others, the injustice that we have brought.
And so there is something really needed, I think by humans, by the human psyche, that it is actually sort of bad for us to attempt to run from celebration to celebration to celebration breathlessly, without stopping and acknowledging the space and making space for pain, for repentance, for our own failure, for honesty. I think the sort of jollification of Christmas, the happiest season of all, can become compulsive and compulsory if it doesn’t first stop and say, before we acknowledge that light has come into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it, that we need to acknowledge that there is darkness. And where is the darkness in our own life? Where is the darkness in the world? But also emotionally acknowledge the pain of that, the reality of that, and cry out with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” And I think the ancient Church, certainly more than modern evangelicalism, and I would say American Christianity and Western Christianity in general, the ancient church did a better job in ways at being emotionally fully-orbed. And I think we see that in the Church calendar.
Cherie Harder: Yeah, in a way that’s fascinating. But it also resonates in that, you know, we are definitely in a culture that tends to valorize getting things done, cutting through red tape, waiting for no one, being there first. We often see waiting as sort of passive or even lazy. So I’m curious, just to kind of pull on that a little bit, to ask not only why is it important to learn to wait, but what does it mean to actually wait well? What distinguishes the person who waits wisely and well from those of us with a more sloth-like disposition?
Tish Harrison Warren: Well, that’s interesting. I think that can be hard. I think this is partly why we need community, and we need spiritual directors in our life, and we need people to help us, because I do think that sometimes slowing down could be pathological or sloth-like. I don’t think that tends to be the struggle for a lot of Americans. I want to say especially kind of like achiever types. But that’s possible. So we need discernment to figure out pace of life, I think is partly what we’re saying. And that’s going to look different, obviously, season to season and depending on what’s happening in our life. And that’s done with community.
And that is not just a practical question. Of course it has to do with sitting down with your calendar and figuring things out, but it does raise these deep spiritual questions of why do we feel the need to go at such breakneck speed and pace so often? Is there a compulsiveness or a fear to that? And I think it’s interesting because there are going to be seasons—I mean, I have three small kids, I have an elderly mom, I work—that I think that we need to be realistic in the sense of—. I’m not saying, you know, in order to follow Jesus this Advent, your life needs to be, you know, full of hours of contemplation. It needs to look monastic. But I do think that, it might have been Dallas Willard that says the devil majors in noise, crowds, and hurry. And it’s interesting because I would say this time of year is particularly marked by noise, crowds, and hurry. And I think pulling away from that to the opposite of that, which would be solitude, quiet, and slowness or stillness is part of the countercultural call of the Church. Now, might that look at times slothful? May that mean that your Christmas decorations are less perfect than your neighbors? Yes, it might. But I think that there is something very holy about that.
And I think in a culture that is frenetic, that is busy, that is addicted to efficiency and pleasure and avoids bad feelings—. I’m reading an amazing book on addiction right now, but he makes the point that most Americans are addicted to something or other in the sense that we do tend to have a culture that shrinks back from facing darkness, from facing pain in some ways. And I think there is a lot of trauma, there is a lot of pain that each of us carry, and that the unwillingness or fear of facing that really drives a lot of compulsion and a lot of busyness. And so I do think that at times shrinking back might look slothful. But I think that’s why we need help discerning what that’s going to look like.
Now, I feel like that was a lot about the practical side. The deeper sense of waiting and how do we do that well—I really feel like a lot of our lives are spent learning this because so much of life involves waiting. I talk in the book a little about the idea of Christian waiting and how it is different. Because we all have to wait. I mean, we’ve all experienced that. And I bring up in the book, if you’ve ever seen the movie Zootopia, which we’ve seen a billion times in our house, but this great scene where they go to the DMV, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and it’s run by sloths. And for our international listeners, if you’ve never been to an American DMV, you wait a long time. And so it’s this funny—. I mean, I saw it in the theater with my kids, and all the grown-ups in the theater were just dying. They were just laughing. And the kids were like, what’s going on? But I think we know that sort of drudgery of waiting. And there is a pain, there’s a toil in waiting that’s a really different sort of waiting than when you’re waiting for a beloved friend or a spouse from the airport, like to pick them up, or waiting for a baby to come or waiting for Christmas. Right? The presents under the tree—and particularly children know that sort of anticipatory waiting. The difference is in the DMV, we’re not sure what we’re waiting for is worth it, and we’re not sure that the people we’re waiting on have our best interest at heart. Right? We sometimes think they may even get some sick pleasure in making us wait longer.
And so I think that Christian waiting actually involves a lot— it’s transformed by trusting the character of the one who is asking us to wait, and also believing that what we’re waiting for is actually worth it. If either of those two things are not true, the character of the one who’s asking us to wait is untrustworthy, or what we’re waiting for is actually not all that great, then waiting should be avoided at all costs, right? Waiting is actually the pits. Who would want that? The only way that waiting can be transformed to this thing that is full of joy, that has anticipation, that has hope—that’s the theme of the book—but that is actually a waiting that is hopeful and not just drudgery or sorrow is if the character of the one that we are waiting for and or who is asking us to wait—in this case, I would say for Christians the Trinity, God himself—is trustworthy and if what we’re waiting for is worth the wait. And I think that’s kind of the place that trust and hope and the story of the gospel encounters waiting and sort of in encountering it transforms what it is in our posture in it.
Cherie Harder: You know, in your book, Advent seems to not only be a season of waiting, but a time in which funny things happen with time—where it seems like past, present, and future all kind of join in a time of waiting. There’s sort of a sense, you pointed out, of an interplay between the linear and the eternal. We’re waiting in anticipation of that which has already happened, as well as celebrating a coming that has not yet happened—which, you know, you mentioned it could be paradoxical; it could also just be rather perplexing. And so I wanted to ask you, since you’ve given a great deal of thought to this, for a bunch of time-bound creatures, what is Advent showing us or telling us about time?
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah, I’m a little obsessed with the idea of time. I’m realizing in all of my work that theme keeps coming up. And I think it’s because I don’t know how to live in it well. I’m always struggling with it and always late. And I also think our approach to time does reveal our trust. This goes back a little bit to your question on how do we know when to slow down and when not to—is the deeper sort of theological questions in that. Time and the way we spend time raises all these deeper questions of our heart and our allegiance, just in the way that money does, the way we spend money. And I think—there’s a great book called, I think it is called Opening the Gift of the Day—I’m sorry that I don’t remember the exact name. It’s by Dorothy Bass, who’s a great theologian who I really appreciate. That’s all about time. And I can look it up, I can Google it and send it out later. But she talks about in it how we tend in our culture to see time as something that we have to conquer, that we have to manage, that we can put in our phone or in our calendar. And this is something that we— there’s almost a competitive relationship it feels like between us and time. We never have enough. We’re trying to win over time. When in reality time calls the shots, right? Time is something that, as creatures, we are much more beholden to, but that we receive as a gift. We receive every day of our life as a gift.
And so the difference between that, between what it means to approach time as a consumer or a conqueror versus someone who can receive time, is something that I think that I’m sort of chasing after in my life and really, really haven’t figured out that. But I think that’s something I want to learn and grow into. There’s, of course, lots of practices in the church that gesture to this, like the Sabbath-keeping, even fasting and some things like that sort of play with our idea of time. But I think one of the chief ways that’s done is the Christian calendar, where time itself becomes this disciple, this way of entering the story. There’s different ways of talking about time. There’s chronos, which is sort of the way we experience linear time. Moment after moment after moment. We can plot it on a calendar. We can measure it in seconds. Any measurable time is chronos.
There’s another Greek word, kairos, which is sort of the fullness of time, which this book is part of a series which is called the Fullness of Time series, and it walks through the whole Christian calendar. And it’s a team, we’re doing it together. A team of writers. So kairos are these moments that feel like— when people talk about a time outside of time, that’s kind of kairos time. If you’ve ever been around a birth or death, if you’ve ever been in a time of great beauty—these are the moments where you’re talking with a friend and you’re sitting around and people are having drinks, and there’s this joy, and all of a sudden you look up and it’s 1 a.m. And it felt like that only took ten minutes, you know, where just time shifts and it feels shorter. It feels fuller. These sort of watershed moments.
And what’s interesting is that the Church calendar is a way we use chronological time—chronos, weeks and days that we can measure—to try to enter into, in some sense, this eternal story that is outside of time, this kairos time. And so because of that, Advent holds together past, present, and future in this really interesting way. Past being that we imaginatively and immersively kind of enter the story of the pre-history of Christ, the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament—those are different terms for that. But from the creation of the world to kind of— you know, creation and fall and the waiting for redemption. Also the story of the incarnation. You know, we’re waiting for Christ to come. And Christmas does that. It brings the incarnation and we celebrate it again. We celebrate it like it’s today, right?
So there’s the past. There’s the future. Because historically, the main focus of Advent, the primary focus of Advent, wasn’t waiting for Christmas. It was waiting for the final return of Christ, where Christ comes not as a baby, but as this reigning king. Right? The new heavens and new earth, right? The [life] of the world to come, as we say in the Creed. So we’re waiting for the second coming of Christ, or the final coming of Christ.
So those are two ways that we’re waiting: waiting in the past, waiting in the future. But Advent is also about seeing the places we need the incarnation. We need Jesus to come in the present through the person of the Holy Spirit. So Advent, for those who don’t know, means “coming” or “arrival.” We’re waiting for a coming, an arrival. And I talk in the book about the three comings of Advent that, you know, Christ came as a baby. Christ will come again. But now, even now, we need—. There are relationships in our life that feel really broken. There are places of addiction or sin or struggle, anxiety. There are places in our world, places of violence obviously, like profound conflict and violence that we’re seeing in Israel and Palestine. Profound violence and war we’re seeing in Russia and Ukraine. These places that we need the coming of Christ even now. We need Christ in the present. And before we turn and proclaim the Prince of Peace, goodwill to all—and Jesus is the Prince of Peace who has come, you know—before we do that, we stop and say like, “Where do we need the Prince of Peace now? Where does that reality feel like already but not yet?”
So in that sense, Advent holds together that Christ has come, Christ will come again, and Christ is now coming to us. Like he doesn’t stop coming to us. And so it holds together these three different Advents, these past, present, and future in this unique way. I think the whole Church calendar does, but Advent does in a particularly interesting way.
Cherie Harder: So we’re going to turn to questions from our viewers in just a second. But before we do, I have to ask: You’ve now written a book about Advent. You’ve had several columns in The New York Times about Advent. So how do you and your family observe Advent?
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah. I didn’t mean to become an expert on Advent, I really didn’t. I mean, I like Advent, but I like lots of other things just as much. But it does seem like a particularly— I think I’m drawn to the countercultural sense of it, particularly within the context of American consumerism, which I didn’t get to a lot, but could talk—. You know, it just seems like such a weird time in a sort of American Christmas for the church to say we’re going to go off and fast and reflect and repent, you know?
So how do we do that? I mean, that has looked really different year to year. And I don’t want to be overly prescriptive because it is easy—because I have a book on it—to be like, “This is the right way to practice Advent.” I don’t actually think there’s necessarily a right way to practice Advent. I think it’s an invitation. The point of Advent is never Advent. The point of Advent is to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus. And so anything that feels like an overly burdensome or that would embitter us to the practice, I think we shed, and that’s fine. This is not a requirement. It’s an invitation.
But some of the ways that we practice it. Yeah, I mean, we do Advent calendars. Advent calendars, by the way, are extremely new. They really came—I found out in researching this book—in the 20th century. But we do that mostly because I have small children. And so it’s a way to kind of involve them in the anticipation of Christmas. We do that alongside an Advent wreath, which we haven’t set up yet. We’ll set up this weekend. But we light candles, and then we have a devotion that we read as a family. We’ve done different ones, different years, but we have an Advent devotional that we read. It’s a way to get our kids into the story of the pre-history of Christ, waiting for Jesus to come. But also to get us, to get our hearts into that. I think a lot of us are familiar with those practices. All of which we do.
I think some other ways that we practice Advent that are actually the historic practices of Advent are—. Historically it was fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. And so carving out specific ways of fasting from food—literally, you know, a literal fast or smaller portions—but also fasting from things like screens or social media or kind of some of the similar ways you might practice Lent, you do in Advent. I also think making particularly time for prayer and reflection and stillness, I think we’re really tired this time of year. So, Advent, it seems like the gift from the Church to say it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay. And I love that Advent, it’s the beginning of the Christian year. It’s the Christian New Year’s, but it’s the end of kind of the Gregorian calendar. And so it’s in this interesting liminal space where we can reflect on the year behind us, the ways that we have met God, the ways that we have found beauty, but also the ways that we have had pain or had loss this year. And look ahead to the ways, where do we need Christ to come in this next year? Where do we need healing? Where do we find hope in this next season of our life?
So I think, we have a little church plant, we are doing a specific day of kind of quiet and inviting people to a time of reflection and I think making space for prayer, reflection, repentance—obviously, it’s a penitential season, taking stock of one’s life. But yeah, I think fasting—and then fasting historically is always tied with seeking justice, with almsgiving. You feel the hunger of those who hunger, but then you turn around and seek to alleviate that in some way.
And so those are some ways that we practice Advent. I think I just also want to say if one slows down—. And so one of the practical ways we do that actually is I’m trying to get almost all our Christmas shopping done before Advent, so that week—which you know, this is on Friday. Advent starts Sunday. So I guess if you haven’t started, tomorrow will be a big day for you. But I try to get most of the stuff just done so that Advent can be kind of a space, kind of a slower pace. I haven’t always been able to do that. And it can end up being a really kind of hectic time. And I just I try to resist that. This is particularly difficult if you’re a student or professor because the academic calendar really works against the Christian calendar in this way. I acknowledge there’s going to feel a tension here, and I think that’s okay. But I do think we as a family try to just make it a more spacious season, and for reflection and prayer and fasting in particular.
Cherie Harder: Well, we have a bunch of questions from our viewers. So we’re going to turn to some of those and hopefully we can get through several of these. So the first question comes from Alan Poole and Alan asks, “I think Advent has been linked to the Second Coming and with that judgment. Advent is an antidote to hurry, absolutely, but how might judgment shape our observance of Advent?”
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah, that’s a great question. Yeah, I probably did not talk about that enough. Thank you, Alan Poole. I know two Alan Pooles, so if you are either of them, hello. So I talk quite a bit in the book about the Scripture readings of Advent. And if you read—and I’m talking specifically in the liturgical calendar that’s shared by Anglicans and overlaps greatly with the Roman Catholic lectionary—a lot of the Advent readings are really— they are difficult. They’re difficult readings. And it’s particularly interesting—again, in this time of year when it’s like Rudolph and happiness and Christmas parties—and then you go to church and it’s like “the blood of the wicked running in the street,” you know. It’s just like, whoa, this is really different. It’s about judgment. There’s almost always a salvation from judgment [that’s] part of that as well in our readings.
But so how does that enter? Well, so a lot of the Scriptures are focused on John the Baptist and Isaiah. And if you read either Isaiah or John the Baptist, man, there is a lot that they say about judgment. It’s uncomfortable. I’ll just say, as a 21st-century American, I am uncomfortable with it, which is good. And that probably means I need to lean in and listen more. This is the place of repentance, right? This is where the idea— Advent is purple. That’s the liturgical color, which represents both royalty and repentance. So the idea there is like the king is coming, so get ready. Because there is a sense with the king, this is a good king, but it’s not a king that tolerates injustice. It’s not a king that winks at evil or the oppression of the weak. And so you see this even in Mary’s Magnificat, the idea of, you know, you fill the hungry with food, but you send the rich away empty with this surprising blessing. There’s also these kind of “woe to those who don’t receive this coming,” right? Woe to those who aren’t ready. Even—if any of you have been reading—even the last few weeks of the lectionary leading up to Advent, it’s all about virgins trimming their wicks, getting ready for the bridegroom. And there’s lots of judgment. And this is spoken by Jesus and these parables. This is the Jesus that makes us uncomfortable.
So first of all, I just want to say judgment is a difficult thing, but we do believe as Christians that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. There is a hope in the concept of judgment, particularly if one is oppressed, right. I tend as an American to sort of shrink from judgment, feel like, oh, man, that’s like fundamentalist, you know, that’s like “turn or burn.” And I had an experience a few years ago, where I had a friend who encountered this really horrific situation overseas where a person was essentially running an orphanage, taking money from folks who wanted to adopt children overseas but never doing the paperwork so that those children could actually leave. So he was grifting off the system. But his grift, I mean, this con, was leaving children in a horrific situation year after year after year. And he was bribing authorities and nothing was being done about it. And they kind of went through all of the avenues they could to bring justice and were thwarted at every step of the way. And I remember hearing the situation. I was a young mom. I had children who I was imagining in this situation and weeping and thinking, no one is going to do right by these children. No one is going to bring the justice that’s required here. And in that moment the judgment of God was such good news to me, that though nobody sees the way this person is oppressing the weak, that God sees the way this person is oppressing the weak, and there will be a reckoning. There will be a judgment. There will be something to say, “This is not okay.” So it will not only always, ever be the powerful preying on the powerless with seemingly no consequences. I think for folks who’ve experienced that sort of injustice, the notion of judgment does actually become good news in a way that if you are well-fed and a relatively happy, American person, you might not resonate with.
Now when that gets tricky is that that same judge turns and faces us. Right? And so I do not think we need to fear God in the sense of that God is a bad guy, but that God is deeply, deeply loving, but also incredibly powerful and incredibly intolerant of evil, even in us. And so he is calling us to repentance out of his kindness to set us free. But I do think there is a sense that the judgment itself is good news. I mean, it is good news that the darkness will, in the end, be put to death and be banished. Fleming Rutledge has this beautiful, beautiful quote, where she says, “Advent is where all”—in her book on Advent, which I highly recommend—and she said, “Advent is where all the cover-ups end.” The idea is that when Jesus comes, everything we hide, every part of our life we don’t want others to see, every kind of political cover-up, corruption in systems, but even the cover-ups in our own life, are unveiled. And I think that is judgment and that is freedom at the same time.
Cherie Harder: Yeah. I want to combine a couple of questions from two anonymous attendees, both of whom are asking about practicing Advent. So the first person asks, “How do you suggest pursuing Advent in a society and even a Church that is full of the noise and hurry of Christmas without being perceived as Scrooge?” And another attendee who asked, “How can those of us who aren’t in churches or traditions of the liturgical tradition celebrate Advent with our families and community?” So how can the non-liturgical celebrate it and how can we celebrate it so we’re not Scrooge-like?
Tish Harrison Warren: Yeah. That’s great. I feel like something I left out of your question on how do we practice Advent is, I mean, primarily we practice Advent by going to church on Sunday and practicing it with our community. We light an Advent wreath each Sunday. You know, we do these things together. It is meant to be a communal practice, not an individual practice. Fasting itself is often, not always, but often a communal practice in Scripture and certainly in the history of the Church. So if one’s church does not practice Advent, again, it’s okay. Advent is not required for salvation or something, but I think finding a community to do this with, whether it’s a small group or a part of a church that meets at a different time, whatever that sort of looks like for you. I think finding a community is helpful for that. And, of course, for the non-liturgical types, there’s all kinds of Advent resources to use, from the Book of Common Prayer—would be one, if you’re just wanting to kind of read through Scriptures of Advent—to there’s amazing Advent poetry by Malcolm Guite. […]
Cherie Harder: We hosted him a couple of years ago on this very topic.
Tish Harrison Warren: It’s so funny because I interviewed him, actually—yes—I interviewed him on Advent for the New York Times, but I still don’t think I ever said his last name, and I just wrote it. Anyway. But I love his stuff. Tsh Oxenreider has a book called Shadow and Light. There’s just loads and loads of Advent resources that you can use, that glean from others in liturgical churches if you are not in one yourself.
The question about Scrooge and being countercultural, this is actually one of the reasons I really, really love Advent, because it’s such a true tension that’s being named there. I genuinely think some of the ways our culture is practicing Christmas now are just sort of wrong. I mean, they’re just kind of bad for us. To be at the end of the year, we’re really tired and it feels like this—. Well, often with well-meaning sense of sort of “okay, busier, busier, and busier.” And I think that’s difficult. There is a huge spike in the holidays with holiday blues and depression, and counselors see this. This is an actual psychological phenomenon. I just also—I mean, this is so almost cliche to say—but the consumerism of Christmas is difficult, right? I mean, it’s become something that I think is harming us. I think it belittles what Christmas is and belittles us in the process. Now, of course, I buy my kids Christmas presents, but it is a way that I think this time of year can be really hard on people, is basically what I’m trying to name.
So I think Advent offers us a gift in that. Now, at the same time, going around and looking down at people for not practicing Advent the way one thinks is, you know, preferred is just almost the opposite of what Advent is meant to do in us. Right? It is meant to kind of create in us the space to see our own brokenness, to see our own need, to see the darkness in our own life, to repent. And so if—I’ve said this on a podcast before—but if you get done with Advent and think, “Oh man, I’m a mess. I just, I kind of failed every which way, and I really need a rescuer. I really need Jesus. I really need hope outside myself.” Well, that’s exactly what Advent is meant to do, right? And if you get done with Advent and think, “I am the perfect Advent [keeper]. I’ve crossed all my t’s and dotted all my i’s and I’m just fully sufficient unto myself as a keeper of Advent,” you’ve kind of missed all of Advent, even if you’ve done all of Advent. And so the heart of this is important.
But I’m intrigued by the question. And in my own life, I’m intrigued because one of the things that’s cool about Advent is that question, which is essentially, how do we live in a countercultural way that still loves our neighbors, that’s not judgmental, that leaves space for difference, that’s winsome, that’s joyful, and not grumpy?—is the question, I think, of the whole Christian life, right? I mean, in general, but maybe particularly in Western society right now. And so I think Advent is this very low-stakes training wheels to say, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, to have a different kind of time, a different way of approaching the world, and to do that in meaningful and real ways while being joyful and while being just available to our neighbors and our Christmas parties and, you know, the office Secret Santa in the practical ways that we need to to live in America, to exist in the way we are?” That same question we are asking about so much: about the way we approach sex, about the way we approach money, about the way we approach politics and justice, about all of these other ways.
So, I mean, my kids see, you know, a lot of—. We do have a lot of Anglican friends, but there’s plenty of people around them that don’t even know what Advent is or practice Advent, and certainly outside of the church that don’t really practice Advent. And so they kind of see, yeah, we’re different in this way. Our practices are different. How do you do that in a way that is joyful and that is non-judgmental and that leaves space to enter in and love one’s neighbor who lives differently or thinks differently? I think they’re learning that about Advent. I mean, I hope they take that same lesson and apply it to a myriad of things in their life for the rest of their life. Of how does one have different practices and take those up joyfully and not in a way that is resentful or that is grumpy? There’s a lot of grumpy Christians about a lot of things that aren’t Advent. And so how do we live in a way that is both countercultural and that is deeply humble and joyful and leaves space for others? And I think that’s a great question for Advent. I think it’s something that we need to work out practically, but I think it also, in the way we approach that question, is actually the question of all of Christian discipleship.
Cherie Harder: Thank you, Tish. And in just a moment, I want to give you the last word. But before we do that, a few things just to share with all of our viewers. First, immediately after we conclude we will be sending around a survey form. We very much welcome and value your input. We read all of these. We try to take your suggestions to heart. As a small incentive, as well as thank you, for sending in your thoughts, we will send you a code for a free Trinity Forum Reading download of your choice. A few that we would suggest that kind of go along with or further develop the theme of our topic today would include “Bright Evening Star” by Madeleine L’Engle on the incarnation. You could also check out “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” which features Tish Warren’s introduction. And others that we would recommend include “The Strangest Story Ever Told” by G.K. Chesterton or Handel’s “Messiah.”
In addition, tomorrow all of you who are registered will get an email from us with a link to the video of today’s Online Conversation, as well as a whole list of other readings and resources for those of you who want to dig deeper into the topic, and we hope that you’ll share this conversation with others and start other conversations and do this in community. So be on the lookout for that email coming around noon tomorrow.
In addition, we wanted to extend all of you an invitation to join the Trinity Forum Society, which is the community of people who help advance Trinity Forum’s mission of cultivating, curating, and disseminating the best of Christian thought for the common good. There are a number of benefits in addition to being part of the community involved in joining the Trinity Forum society, and they include a subscription to our quarterly Readings, as well as a subscription to our daily “What We’re Reading” list of curated reading recommendations. And as a special incentive for all of you joining the Trinity Forum society, or with your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy of Tish’s work on advent, so hope that you will avail yourself of that opportunity.
In addition, if you would like to sponsor a future Online Conversation, we would love to hear from you. And you can simply let Campbell Vogel, who you met at the very beginning, know. Her email is email@example.com. In addition, in terms of some upcoming events, if you are in the Nashville area, we are going to be there on Tuesday and hosting an Evening Conversation with Michael Lamb on “The Courage to Teach Character.” Hope that you will join us.
And as a special late-breaking announcement—we actually have not announced this before—you’ll see the invitation going out either later today or tomorrow—but next week, same time, we’ll be hosting Keith Getty to discuss “Joy to the World: Caroling, Christmas, and Christian Formation.” So there should be a link in the chat feature. Register now. You won’t want to miss it. We’d love to see you there.
Finally, as promised, Tish, the last word is yours.
Tish Harrison Warren: All right. I thought since you told me I had the last word, I would just read some of the last words of this book. So I’m actually going to just read you a little bit of the last words, but I’m going to start with a quote by Karl Bart who wrote, “What other time or season can or will the Church ever have but that of Advent?” I think what he meant there is that we all live in the “already, not yet.” We all live between Christ coming and Christ coming again. We’re all in Advent every day of our lives, even outside of Advent season.
So at the very end of the book, I say, in light of that, “Someday all our Advents will end. The wait will be over. The Lord will come. Yet all of our waiting, our struggles and sorrows, our doubts and fears, our days and weeks, will be a vital part of the story. It will be part of the Hallelujah that echoes from a creation that once groaned. It will be part of the restoration of all things. It will be part of what is being born. Until then, we live each minute of our lives between Jesus’s first Advent in the Nativity and his final Advent. Until then, we dwell in liminality in the meantime. As we both enjoy and endure this meantime with all its beauty and suffering, with its bright sadness, Advent, like so many other spiritual practices, is merely a tool. It is meant to teach us how to live in hope, and to trust and love the object of our hope. It is merely a tool, but it is one that has proven useful across many generations and many lives. May it prove useful in ours as well.”
Blessed Advent to you.
Cherie Harder: Thank you, Tish. Thank you to all of you for joining us. Happy Advent.