The War on Advent

By |2018-08-13T15:45:24+00:00November 9th, 2015|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , , , , |20 Comments

You have heard of the supposed War on Christmas. But the real war is not about whether retailers use the word Christmas during December or not. In fact, it is not even the Christmas season until Christmas day anyway. The real war is happening in many American churches. It’s not a war on Christmas, its a war on Advent, and I want to enlist you on the Advent side. We need an Advent army that fights not with boycotts or browbeating, but with an invitation to a quieter, older path. Here’s my recruiting pitch:

For many centuries, Advent was a season of spiritual preparation before the Feast of Christmas. It began four Sundays before Christmas. Contrary to the practice of so-called Advent in many churches, it wasn’t focused on the story of the birth of Christ and the singing of carols. That’s for the Christmas season. Instead, Advent is a time of reflection, penitence, and preparation, not of celebration.

Human nature being what it is, we ended up skimming the icing off of the cake before the birthday party even started. We like feasts, but we don’t like fasts. Many churches and Christians stopped observing the seasons, except for the feasts and celebrations (Easter and Christmas). In other words, we dropped the preparation, penitence and reflection part and went straight for the carols, presents, and eggnog.

Some are trying to restore Advent but they’re doing it wrong. If you go to Christian bookstores for Advent resources or look for Advent playlists, you will quickly see that Advent devotionals are about Christmas. Again, they are skipping the actual themes of Advent.

The themes of Advent are from the Old Testament prophecies and the ministry of John the Baptist.  They take us on a journey to a time before the first coming of Christ. Like the ministry of John the Baptist, they invite us to repent, and “prepare the way of the Lord.”  Historic advent devotion focuses on the story of the People of God leading up to the birth of Christ. That way, when Christmas arrives, we have the whole story in mind.  The week before Christmas, they focus on the Annunciation to Mary. Perfect timing.

So, for example, in a traditional observance of Advent, we don’t sing Christmas carols until Christmas actually arrives after sunset on Christmas Eve. Instead, we sing Advent hymns and songs such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

And then Christmas arrives. But it isn’t just one day. It’s Twelve Days. It saddens me that so many Christians sing Christmas songs for so long before Christmas, then they say they’re tired of Christmas by Christmas! Most can’t imagine eleven more days.

The real war is inside of our churches and homes. We have obliterated the season of preparation, prematurely begun and then over-extended the feasting, and forgotten our own heritage. No wonder there is so much depression and guilt associated with that day.

So restoring Advent isn’t about “traditional” rules. It isn’t about being “right” or “correct.” Restoring Advent is about healing the guilt that so many people associate with the feasting of Christmas. It’s about being a healing presence in a shame-based culture. It’s about enjoying the Twelve Days with gusto rather than boredom.

This year, why not try it?  Advent starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Why not put off the Christmas music and decorating at least until a couple of weeks before Christmas?  Instead, focus on the message of the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist. Purposely avoid Christmas foods and celebration (when you can without being anti-social). Let it be a quiet, reflective time in the midst of so much busyness and bustle.

See what happens. Maybe you’ll find that sometimes the wisdom of the past brings healing to our frantic, modern lives.

Photo: Public Domain

Advent/Christmas Related Posts…

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to do the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) this Advent, check out the Rookie Anglican Daily Office Booklet.

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.


  1. Gianluca John DeMartinis Sr November 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the article ! 🙂

  2. Geoff November 9, 2015 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    No idea when Thanksgiving is, but I agree with all you say about Advent and Christmas.
    We also tend to miss the Sunday before Advent – the Feast of Christ the King. It brings the church’s year to an end with the full revelation of the Christ we began preparing for last Advent and have been glimpsing throughout the year ever since.

    • Greg Goebel November 9, 2015 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Sorry. The American Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November.

  3. Brian Carpenter November 9, 2015 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Well, I was with you until the part about Christmas guilt. Not seeing it myself.

  4. Restoration Church Online | Blog November 12, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    […] Priest Greg Goebel wrote a insightful article about Advent with the tongue-in-cheek title “The War on Advent.” He […]

  5. Julie November 12, 2015 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    If, as you say, It isn’t about being “right” or “correct,” then why is it a War on Advent? Isn’t it just a difference?

    • Greg Goebel November 12, 2015 at 5:39 pm - Reply

      Hey Julie. Great question. My take is that it is wise to observe Advent, rather than merely being correct. The article title is more of a provocative invitation, kind of poking fun at the warfare mentality. Probably failed to convey that. So really not a war. Just a loss of something older and wiser.

      • Julie November 12, 2015 at 7:11 pm - Reply

        Thank you. Your post was enlightening and inspirational.

    • John Brough November 21, 2016 at 2:00 pm - Reply

      it’s a silent war between our flesh and spirit. equate it to turning off the electronics and sitting in silence -after the withdrawal symptoms subside, you realize the beauty around you. Noise vs Stillness. Author is asking us to turn away from the glamour and illusion tickling our senses and delight in distraction to get at the core of Advent and Christmas.

  6. Ford November 14, 2015 at 7:01 am - Reply

    How would you advise an individual to observe Advent? Your post seems to be directed at how an entire congregation should observe this season.

    • Greg Goebel November 14, 2015 at 10:04 am - Reply

      You could also read the prophets and John the Baptist. You could read or sing Advent songs. We have an Advent calendar and we read as a family in the Old Testament. We put up our tree two weeks before Christmas, but we don’t put the ornaments in until Christmas Eve. . And of course attend worship.

    • emmanuelcbc November 21, 2016 at 11:17 am - Reply

      There is a related post “Observing Advent as a Family” that has suggestions which can easily be tailored for an individual.

  7. […] Here’s the link to the rest of the piece and some resources to help you take some steps on a meaningful Advent journey, should you decide to embark… […]

  8. Ethel November 23, 2016 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Since Christmas is not about the Birth of Christ, as He was born sometime in the fall when Shepherds were still tending to their sheep in pastures, therefore not late December or( they would have frozen to death)! From what I understand they bring their sheep in for shelter when the nights begin to get cold. The Bible does not mention snow, ice or frost, so we can assume it would be more like fall?

    • Greg Goebel December 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Hello Ethel. We really aren’t sure exactly when Christ was born. However, the Feast of the Incarnation has been celebrated on or around December 25th for many centuries, so that seems like the share, common time for Christians to focus on his birth. Thanks for your comment. Blessings to you.

    • Cliff Syner December 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      Good Evening! Fr. Greg, I am grateful for this post. Our family has started following the Anglican Way in large part due to the reflection and reverence that seem to be in total discongruence with society and I believe in many ways leads to the anxiety we see so rampant even within the Church. Your post about Advent is edifying and much appreciated. As a shepherd with a small flock of sheep myself, I would like to address the idea that Christ was not born in December. While of course we can not be sure of the exact date, the revelation that shepherds were, “in fields keeping watch over their flocks by night,” is actually quite supportive of late December My wife loves our sheep and especially loves lambing season. She has often joked that she would spend the entire few weeks in the barn during that time. We set up a baby monitor in the barn (I’m sure the shepherds would have loved that opportunity!) and we awake at the slightest stir or baah in hopes that it might be the first sign of a ewe giving us a new lamb. In Tennessee this happens in February. In Israel and Palestine most native Awassi sheep lamb in December/January, ensuring that Shepherds would have been close to their sheep during that time, despite the cold.

  9. […] “For many centuries, Advent was a season of spiritual preparation before the Feast of Christmas. It began four Sundays before Christmas. Contrary to the practice of so-called Advent in many churches, it wasn’t focused on the story of the birth of Christ and the singing of carols. That’s for the Christmas season. Instead, Advent is a time of reflection, penitence, and preparation, not of celebration…. The themes of Advent are from the Old Testament prophecies, and the ministry of John the Baptist.  They take us on a journey to a time before the first coming of Christ. Like the ministry of John the Baptist, they invite us to repent, and ‘prepare the way of the Lord.’” – Greg Goebel  […]

  10. Joan Oliver November 30, 2017 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    We have “celebrated” Advent in a low key manner for years. We put candles in our windows and simple wreaths at our front door. We use the Advent wreath and an old order of service (from the parish we attended in the late sixties!) at dinner time. And the tree doesn’t go up until week 3or 4. It has become a season of waiting quietly, reflecting on the coming Messiah…and I love it.

  11. Lyn December 3, 2017 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    C’mon, Father, the church co-opted an already-existing pagan festival of winter, making up the whole story about “Jesus’ birthday,” so while I will support your right to believe and do whatever you care to do between Thanksgiving and the beginning of winter, I object to your shaming people who do what the ancients – and the Three Wisemen, by the way – did during the weeks before December 25th. We prepare everything (not just our souls) for a whopping winter celebration. Frankincense and myrrh came from nowhere but the area we now call Yeman, so those Magi, their camels, and all their buddies (no one ever did that trip on the Frankincense Route alone, especially not when transporting extremely valuable goods!) would have been on the road for as many as 6 months to bring those valuable gifts to that stable; it’s a pretty good guess that they weren’t solemn, somber, and sanctimonious all along that 1400 mile journey! As for the pagans who invented what the church then decided to re-purpose as Christmas? – well, as a woman (Episcopal) who has been getting hearth, home, and larder ready for those 12 days of Christmas for 70 years now, I can tell you that the celebration of Christmas – for men like you, for children, for everyone – simply does not happen unless most of the rest of us are busy, busy, busy, all through the weeks called Advent, getting a whole lot more than our spiritual lives in order, and humming Christmas music all the while to keep our spirits high. And as a mother, I can guarantee you that, during the final weeks of Mary’s pregnancy, even she was not sitting around, quietly contemplative, getting ready to be awed. She, too, would have been buying last minute stuff, wrapping bundles, packing for the trip and, probably, singing. So, let’s not be quite so Puritan about all of this. Really. There’s just no One Right Way to “do” Advent. During these days when daylight becomes shorter and weaker, let us simply remember – and rejoice – that we will survive the darkness together … and the Light will return. Fair enough?

    • Greg Goebel December 3, 2017 at 2:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks for writing. Unfortunately there are many misunderstandings of Advent and of those who advocate for a more traditional observation. Your comment seems to misunderstand my post and so it gives me a chance to clarify a few things. Christmas is not derived from a pagan holiday, I didn’t suggest that preparing for Christmas by baking, wrapping, packing or shopping were shameful or inappropriate during Advent, and I didn’t suggest one correct way to do Advent or that Christmas music is “wrong” to sing, etc. My whole framework is pastoral and lot legal or code based, as stated in the article itself. I could very easily be wrong in my pastoral advice and am open to that. I’m not open to the idea that my post was full of shame based legal codes.

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