Well, have a blessed Advent as we wait in increasingly joyful anticipation of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is, for me, one of those reminders of just how far away from the historic Christian faith America has moved. When I took my third pastorate, it was at a church with an established staff, such as it was. The 'staff' was made up of two others, a youth minister and an associate minister. Being young and full of vigor, I felt the best thing to do was arrange an informal staff meeting to get to know them, even though I had worked with them as associate pastor for the previous year and a half. It's one thing working along side of them, it's another thing being their boss - something I was aware neither gentleman was particularly thrilled about.
We met at the local coffee shop one evening, and went over a few things. I let them know some of what I thought would happen, and asked them for input from their particular areas of interest. The older gentleman, Grady, the associate minister, used that time to express his feelings about me and his concern over where I might take things. Particularly bothersome was my suggestion that we do 'Advent Services' throughout December.
He had been good friends with the former pastor, and that fellow had not done anything near an Advent service. The closest was some strange ceremonial concoction he called a Chrismon Tree. I had no clue what that was, but each Sunday in December the congregation would do something with ornaments on a tree, something would be read, and that was about it. It was that strange Evangelical tendency to admit that there needs to be something more than just 'Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life', but always hesitant at become too ceremonial or liturgical, lest the dreaded 'Catholic' label be applied.
In our conversation at the Mean Bean, that's exactly what happened. I explained that some folks had asked for a change in tempo regarding our December festivities. Aware that the commercialism and consumerism of our modern age was making somber reflections on the Season all but impossible, many folks were trying to find ways of doing anything that would seem at least religious. Something a little deeper and wider than a Chrismon Tree. Plus, Baptists taking up the Advent tradition was not uncommon, and in fact most churches I had attended or served did that very thing. But Grady, being the old timer that he was, didn't like it one bit. Not one. Why? Because it was 'too Catholic', that's why. And in old time Southern Baptist parlance, that was akin to saying 'too Satanic.'
Many younger Baptists and not a few older ones had long since shed the 'Harlot of Babylon' label when applying it to Catholics, especially as many began to see the staunch dedication to the Church's protecting life and fighting secular and Leftist ideals. Nevertheless, there were many out there who still saw the phrase Catholic Christian as oxymoronic as Kosher Ham. Grady was one of those. The idea of doing something so flagrantly Papist gave him the same jitters that Colonel Dietrich had regarding Belloq's desire to perform a Jewish ritual when opening the Ark.
Despite my attempts to explain what Advent was, that it was an ancient way of preparing for the Christmas season, that the Christmas season actually began on Christmas, not Black Friday, and that it was not something unique to Catholics today since many were realizing the richness of the practice and custom, he would have none of it. He promised there and then to give me headaches if I tried to do something 'so Catholic.' Finally, I asked him if he was against doing anything simply because it might be Catholic. He explained that the Catholic Church had no business being in our Denomination. Catholics were OK, but keep the Catholic in the Catholic Church.
At that point, I explained that we would have to chuck Christmas as well. After all, what was Christmas but Christ Mass? What, after all, was anything we did but some shard or particle that we had kept from the historic faith while jettisoning the rest? That went over about as well as you might expect. Like Salieri in Amadeus, he may as well have taken a picture of me, put it in the fireplace, and proclaimed that now we were enemies, he and I.
Nonetheless, in that time I realized something in that 2001 meeting. Much of the rejection of Catholic practice and belief was founded on nothing other than rejecting it because it was Catholic practice and belief. Even if the practice was in no way non-Christian, or anti-Jesus, it was Catholic, and therefore had to go. And we have been paying the price for the last hundred years or so. With nothing to fill the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas, our manufacturers of culture and commerce were more than happy to step in and lend a hand. And now, few Christians - Catholics or Protestants - don't lament the mockery and cultural defecation that has been heaped upon this sacred time.
So Happy Advent, especially my Protestant brethren. Think it through, kick it around. I know a lot of churches are already sheepishly bringing back this or that practice. Not new practices, but ones from of old, parts and shards of what once made up the entire Christian faith. Let that sink in, then follow your hearts and minds. You might be surprised where it leads as we make our way to the celebration of the birth of our Lord.