What's Tony Thinking

Advent: Watch Out!


Something different for Advent this year. At the right side of the page you’ll see info about a series of on-line Advent Vesper services I am planning. We will begin on the first Sunday of Advent, December 3, and continue the next three Sundays, Dec. 10, 17 and 24. 4:00 p.m. PST, 7:00 p.m. EST, and so on.

Zoom link will be posted as we get closer to December 3. I imagine the services will run 35 minutes or so. We’ll try an after-service (bring your own coffee, tea and cookie or glass of wine), for those who wish, for another 10 or 15 minutes to converse and comment. If we have a bunch of people, we can use breakout rooms of 3 or 4 people.

Why Advent Vespers? It may go back to my childhood. The church I grew up in, Rock Spring Congregational in Arlington, Virginia, had Advent Vespers on Sunday evenings. Not being Baptist it was the only time of the year we had Sunday (early) evening services. My Dad and I used to go together. I loved the shadows, candles, the Advent music and the brevity.

As life went on my affection for Advent grew and deepened. I came to see Advent as a wonderfully strange season. Sometimes Advent gets turned into a kind of mini-Lent with a lot of emphasis on what we are to do to prepare for Christ or for Christmas. A religious version of the “getting ready for Christmas” frenzy, known as “the holidays.”

Making Advent into a season of preparation for Christmas misunderstands what Advent is really about. Instead of being about all the stuff (secular or religious) we are to be busy with, Advent is about the strange ways and busy-ness of God. Here’s Fleming Rutledge from her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ. 

. . . the Advent emphasis on the agency of God, as contrasted with the ‘works’ of human beings. An exclusive emphasis on Advent as a season of preparation risks putting human endeavor in the spotlight for all four weeks of the season.”

So a better word for Advent than “preparation” is “watchful.” Being watchful for what God is up to. Better still, “watch out!” Watch out because God acts in unexpected ways, through unexpected people, and at a time you do not know.

Stranger things: Advent positions the church between the first and second comings of Christ. Mostly mainline and liberal Protestantism ditched any talk of a “second coming” as an embarrassment to modern, progress oriented people who were “bringing in the Kingdom.” But when something is repressed, it doesn’t go away, just underground. In this case, the second coming became the preserve of fundamentalists and literalists with time-tables and left-behind stories.

Advent positions the church between the first coming of Christ, incognito in a manger, and the second, coming in glory as the fulfillment of God’s purposes. And by the way, that’s where the church lives: between the first coming of Jesus and final coming and consummation of all things in him. Which is to say, we live in a world beset by spiritual darkness with glimmers of light. Advent.

You’re invited. Let’s “evening” together during December (“vesper” being Latin for “evening). See you then.



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