November 25, 2016 – John Stonestreet It is time to prepare for Christmas.
Last Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the time historically “set aside by the Church to help believers prepare to receive the fullness of Jesus’ coming.”
And the word “coming” refers both to His Incarnation and “His return as the ‘Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory,” who will “send his angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens’ (Mark 13:26-27).”
Today I want to explore the relationship between the observance of Advent and our worldview.
When most Christians think about worldview, what comes to mind are ideas. Now worldview isn’t less than ideas, of course, but it is more.
Bill Brown, Gary Phillips and I define worldview as the framework of basic beliefs we have that give us a view of and for the world. That framework includes ideas, but also our imagination, our habits, and the basic stories—both cultural and personal—that shape our lives.
We live out of these stories—they give us, as N. T. Wright puts it, “a way-of-being-in-the-world.” It’s this “way-of-being in the world” that I want to talk more about today.
Twelve years ago, the historian Robert Louis Wilken wrote in the journal First Things that “The Church is a culture in its own right. Christ does not simply infiltrate a culture; Christ creates culture by forming another city, another sovereignty with its own social and political life.”
What distinguishes this culture from the non-Christian world is not some kind of physical separation, or even a spiritual withdrawal, but, to borrow Wright’s phrase, a “way-of-being-in-the-world” that’s different.
According to Wilken, three hallmarks of this “way” were the distinctive Christian uses of space, time, and language. Time today does not permit me to discuss the uses of space and language, so I’ll settle for urging you to read Wilken’s essay.
But that does leaves time to talk about, well, time. As Wilken writes, “We should not underestimate the cultural significance of the calendar and its indispensability for a mature spiritual life. Religious rituals carry a resonance of human feeling accumulated over the centuries.”
He continues “The season of Advent . . . is a predictable reminder that the Church lives by another time, marked in the home by a simple ritual, the lighting of a violet Advent candle set in an evergreen wreath on a dark evening in early December.”
“Sacred seasons” like Advent, “run at right angles to the conventional calendar [and] they offer a regular and fixed cessation of activity.” They become “times of reflection and contemplation that open us to mystery and transcendence.”
What’s more, they provide the “gift of leisure,” a much-needed respite from “the world of work and money and minding our p’s and q’s.”
Only if we truly understand those cultural forces that shape our worldview can we intentionally open ourselves to the possibility that there is a way of being in the world that is both countercultural and transformative.