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Is Advent Biblical?

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Part 6 of series: Introduction to Advent
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Earlier in this series I mentioned the fact that many Protestant Christians reject Advent because they consider it to be a Roman Catholic practice. For most of these, it isn’t so much the Roman Catholic aspect of Advent that is truly problematic, but the fact that Advent is not taught in Scripture. You can’t turn to a place in the Bible and find teaching on Advent or a command to set aside four weeks prior to Christmas as a season of waiting, hoping, and yearning.

Does this mean we that biblically-oriented Christians shouldn’t observe Advent? For some, the answer is “Yes.” If it’s not explicitly taught in Scripture, then Christians shouldn’t do it. You’ll find that kind of argument among non-instrumental Church of Christ believes, for example. Since instruments are not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament teachings about worship, then we shouldn’t use instruments today.

So what about Advent? Does its absence from Scripture mean we shouldn’t observe it?

If you buy that argument, then you must also abstain from Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter, which also aren’t found in Scripture. You might as well throw out Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, and Thankgiving too, since none of these are mentioned in Scripture. (I suppose you could find a way to derive Thanksgiving from the Jewish festival of Sukkoth (Tabernacles), though it wouldn’t fall on the fourth Thursday in November and it wouldn’t involve eating Turkey or watching football.) Moreover, if you really believe that Christians can only do that which is explicitly taught in Scripture, then you shouldn’t go a to a church building for worship, or sit in pews or chairs, or use microphones, or wear pants, or use hymnals, or use digital projectors, or . . . .  Honestly, I don’t know any Christian who actually lives consistently by the “I don’t do it if it’s not in Scripture rule,” though I admire the intent of those who try.

I believe that we are free in Christ to do many things that are not specifically taught in Scripture. To a certain extent, I agree with those who argue that if something is not prohibited in the Bible, then it’s okay for Christians. (Of course this argument has limits. I had a Christian friend in high school who used this argument to defend her use of marijuana, since it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. The rest of my Christian friends and I were persuaded that the analogy of drunkenness applied to getting high on pot. Thus we believed marijuana use to be sinful.) Surely there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits one from observing Advent. No matter what you think of it, Advent surely doesn’t fall into the “illegal drugs” category of no-nos.

But I’m not concerned merely with whether Advent is not disallowed in Scripture. I want to know if observing Advent is consistent with biblical themes and priorities. Is Advent biblical in this grander sense? Could the observance of Advent help one to grow in faith in a way that aligns with biblical faith?

Yes, I think so. For a moment, forget about Advent itself, and answer the following questions:

• Is it a good thing for us Christians to set aside a special time in the year to focus more on God and grow in our relationship with him?

• Is it good for us to get in touch with just how much we need a Savior?

• Is it helpful for us to wait on the Lord and to learn to wait upon him more faithfully?

• Is it helpful to remember our hope in God and to be refreshed in that hope?

• Would it be a valuable thing in your life to be prepared to celebrate the true meaning of the Incarnation?

• Would you like to experience more of God’s peace and presence during the often hectic weeks prior to Christmas?

• Would your faith be enriched if you were to read, study, and meditate on biblical texts that speak of the first and second “advents” of Christ?

I think most biblically-oriented Christians would answer these questions in the affirmative. Does that mean we all should observe Advent? Of course not. We are free to do so or not to do so, according to our consciences and sense of God’s leading. But it’s not hard to see how Adven (or something like it) t could be beneficial for most Christians. (Photo above: I’m not actually expecting many people to imitate my Advent tree, with its purple lights and purple and pink ornaments. This tree was in my office at Irvine Presbyterian Church, and could be seen by thousands of people driving by each day. I don’t put an Advent tree in my office any more, partly because I don’t have the space, and partly because the only beings who would appreciate it are of the four-legged variety. Photo to the right: The view out of my office window.)

If you’re looking for biblical passages that express Advent themes, you might think of such texts as:

Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:14)

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. (Psalm 62:5-7)

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6)

O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities. (Psalm 130:7-8)

[T]hose who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. (Isa 40:31)

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;  and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:18-25)

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13)

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

Of course then there are lots of biblical passages that focus even more specifically on Advent themes and hopes associated with the coming of the Messiah. You can find these in my Advent Devotional Guide.

So, though it’s correct to say that Advent itself is not taught in Scripture, and therefore Christians are free to observe it or not, it is equally correct to say that the emphases of Advent are thoroughly biblical. If the traditions of Advent help us to focus more on the Lord, to get in touch with our need for him, to replenish our hope, and to celebrate Christmas with greater meaning and depth, then I’m all fer it, as we say in Texas.

Topics: Advent |

8 Responses to “Is Advent Biblical?”

  1. debt Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 2:54 am

    It’s important for me to say here that there is no biblical imperative to keep Advent. Nor is there specific biblical teaching on what to do in Advent. This is very much like Christmas, which is also an extra-biblical tradition. Though I believe that Christians can be blessed by keeping Advent, I respect the right of any Christian to choose otherwise.

  2. chaplain mike Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 6:12 am

    I appreciate your post and think it will be helpful to non-liturgical evangelicals who always ask this question, “Is it Biblical?” I’m not sure they always understand what they mean when they ask that.

    One of the reasons I have departed from evangelicalism as a tradition is its disdain of THE Tradition of the church in favor of a “Scripture only” mentality which, in my experience, was applied with little real Biblical understanding, theological depth, or historical perspective.

    With regard to Advent and other practices like it, it is enough for me now that it is consistent with Biblical piety AND that the consensus of the Church over the centuries has advocated such disciplines for the benefit of believers.

  3. Deets Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Whether Advent is biblical, is not my concern. Certainly, it is based in the very biblical goals that you ask us to consider. All things, including Advent, and for that matter Christmas, are permissible.

    However, I wonder how beneficial it is for the church to celebrate this season. I include Christmas as we currently celebrate it, particularly by demanding that the money takers take our money in the most religious was.

    This whole season is a distraction. I don’t know of a single family in my church that will spend more time focused on the elements of Advent that you talk about as good, instead use the Advent season to focus on material things. Celebrating Advent as a church encourages Open Season for materialism.

    I say this as one who as a pastor to children. There is almost no way to spend Advent focused on Jesus. Advent, by its nature, focuses on the minor things of the scriptures, not the coming of the Savior. Sure Jesus is the consistent thread of the Advent season, but he because a minor player as we spend the month focus on Mary and donkeys, Joseph, Wise Men and Angels. Camels usually take a bigger role that Jesus. Even Jesus is caricature during this season. We talk a lot about a baby, but our link to the Jesus that died for our sins is usually lost in making Jesus God’s gift to us. It is true that Jesus is a gift to us, but the way it plays out in the way we do Advent and Christmas is that Jesus is just another gift like the many we will rush out to buy after our worship service.

    Sure Advent is permissible. There are many noble reasons for celebrating the season. Unfortunately, Advent and Christmas are not beneficial. Sure, you can name the half dozen people you know that turned to Christ in this season, but consider how many turn away from him and turn toward minor issues of faith or toward worldly matters.

  4. Chris Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks for your post Mark. Good things to think about, this time of year. I would add that if we want to consider the merits of Advent, it’s probably good to think of it within the context of the larger “story” it is part of-the Christian Year. While the Christian year is not prescribed by the Bible, it (CY) is a way of telling the Story from the Bible (and even inviting us to put our lives into a new rhythm). In a culture of consumerism, perhaps living by a new “calendar” could help us recover our Story?

  5. Mark Says:
    December 7th, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    @Deets. David Anderson, who with Paul Hill wrote “Frogs without Legs Can’t Hear” related in that book how his family would have a special sayings that they would say during different liturigical seasons of the year. They would use these when greeting each other, or upon leaving, or when going to bed. During Advent, for example, one of the famiy would say “Prepare ye”, and the other would say “the way of the Lord”.

  6. Jessica Denise Says:
    December 8th, 2009 at 9:39 am

    I really hate rituals for the sake of rituals, but I have grown up to love rituals and traditions that help us seek the Lord. In Scripture, we find that when something significant happens, the people will set up a memorial or perform rituals every year or specified amount of time, and they celebrate what God has done and the promise that He has made through His covenants in the future. So, I discovered Advent a few years ago and I really love it because it helps me focus on Christ.

  7. erick bauman Says:
    December 9th, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    the answer to the questions above are essential for living sent daily as love letters from Christ to the world, right? I think the invention of “times” that we focus more intently, rather than just incorporating these into the the daily journey, creates a culture we’ve been entrenched in. I argue that Advent should be considered in our daily lives and that until we live that way, rather than relying on the next teaching series to provide intrigue and interest for the coming “church” services, we’ll have what we’ve had. (You’re asking what’s that, right?) We have a christian culture that needs to be given aspirations to shoot for, rather than an understanding and security that we been freed to celebrate when we wake.

    look forward to further discussions.

  8. Sam Clark Says:
    December 10th, 2009 at 5:48 am

    @Deets, I’m encouraged that you, as a pastor to children, find yourself thinking about advent. I find it is an opportune time to focus on Christ with my youth group and family. I’m a Methodist youth leader and have not observed advent most of my life but find beauty and unifying structure in the liturgical calendar. Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey is a good resource.


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