Is Advent a penitential season?

Advent is my favorite season of the church year, I think. I like the sense of longing, of hope, and of quiet joy. I also find this season to be a holy time to focus on repentance — on our need and the world’s need for Jesus. Too often, we only get part of Advent. In our I’m-OK-you’re-OK 21st century American Christianity, penitence is not convenient. Many clergy will say that Advent is not penitential at all.

Over on the Anglican Centrist, Bryan Owen nicely captures the penitential aspect of Advent, along with the rest of Advent’s theological complexity.

Why, then, do we sometimes hear clergy and laypersons so emphatically deny that these themes are an intrinsic part of the Advent season? I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we are increasingly uncomfortable with theological concepts like “sin” and “repentance,” and perhaps especially at a time of the year when our consumer culture is in high “feel good” gear. It’s just so much easier (and more fun) to go with the path of least resistance and join the party. By contrast, themes of sin and repentance convey the clear message that we need to change, that we need transformation in order to be ready for Christmas, that we need to wait for the celebration in God’s time, and that it’s inappropriate and even unfaithful to jump the gun by celebrating too early without doing the hard work of repentance in the light of God’s grace.

Go read the whole thing. And repent! I’m still working on my own repentance…

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4 Responses

  1. Fr. Epperson says:

    Hey Scott. Owen’s article is pretty good. I linked it in our parish e- newsletter.


  2. So Scott, where do you stand in the Advent violet versus blue debate?

  3. Marshall says:

    We’re not so good as a society at being told to feel guilty. Perhaps the issue is that “pentitentialness” is seen as guilt and not as a way to progress forward into joy (or whatever).

    Then again, I might just be a little too heathen for my opinion to be particularly meaningful here…

  4. Scott Gunn says:

    Fr. Alexander, I consider the color to be a matter of adiaphora. We use purple at Christ Church, for some of the same reasons you use blue at St. Stephen’s. Given a choice, I have a slight preference for blue, but not for any holier-than-thou pseudo-Sarum attitude. I’ll blog about this soon.

    Marshall, I think your opinion is probably about right for lots of clergy and lots of people. That said, if we don’t talk about how we’ve fallen short, we can’t really talk about our need for God. In management terms, it wouldn’t be useful to scold employees and tell them they’re hopeless. It also wouldn’t be useful to tell them they’re just fine as is, with no need to do better. You have to balance the two. Among Christians, we sometimes talk about these as Law and Gospel. Not quite the same, but close enough for a blog comment. The trick is that it all breaks down if you play too much on one side or the other.


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