November 15th – seems like I constantly fight (more like a friendly spar) with my colleagues in ministry – this is the time of Advent! “No, no, no,” they reply. “Advent begins on the first four Sundays before Christmas!” “But Celtic Advent…” (sigh). I find myself often alone in arguing for an earlier start to the season of Advent, nevertheless, I remain resolute to continue and call for Christians to adopt the Celtic Advent time frame.
Celtic Advent begins on November 15th (every year) and marks 40 days until Christmas Day. 40 (in the Christian tradition) is a significant period of time – whether we are talking days or years. Consider that the Flood spanned 40 days, Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, Moses also prayed for Israel for a smilier time period, this was also the period of time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry and the amount of time that he appeared to believers after his resurrection (see this link for other significant ’40’ time frames).
I believe that there are some distinct advantages to celebrating and observing an Advent season that is decidedly ‘Celtic.’ Other than the distinction of 40 days – there is not much that is special or unique about it. Advent’s primary importance is found within preparing one’s heart for Christmas. Allow me to explain how I see this related to our faith, families, and football.
Celtic Advent: An Imperative for Western Christianity
Christians in the West and particularly in the United States are more and more being caught up in the “rush of seasons” – Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated within just a month of each other and become epicenters for the church in terms of attendance, giving, and production. Working on staff of a large mega-church in south Denver for a number of years, we found it increasingly difficult to simply create time to be with people. As a staff, we desired to honor our volunteers; however, scheduling time to celebrate a year or season of serving the community became nearly impossible. Office holiday parties, school schedules, family vacations, youth sports, and larger church events (productions and plays) all seemed to overshadow and tend to make the season become a hub of unearthly busyness, or perhaps we might say that it was an ‘unholy busyness.’
Celtic Advent: Becoming Un-busy in our Faith
I would vehemently say that as Christ-followers we’ve become too busy. We live in a culture, today, that rivals the noise of Jerusalem which missed the birth of the Savior of the world. Despite celestial signs, the foreigners streaming into the country, and other odd-tellings that something was afoot – we read that Herod and all of Jerusalem were ‘troubled.’ The arrival of the magi and their own acute understanding of Hebraic prophesy – it is almost as if everyone had been too busy to pay attention to the events in the heavens or the rumblings on the ground.
I imagine if Jesus were to come back to earth today in a quiet manner (not in the triumphal King entry that is foretold) we would miss him. With many Christians buried by the schedules of work and play – we barely have time for authentic, Christian community engagement. For those that do make attendance at a place of worship something of priority, there are other inherent challenges to making one’s heart ready and receptive for the King – too much to go into here, but perhaps in another space we can have a conversation on the decline of authentic Christian faith in the West.
Often times, many Christian believers bemoan the cheapened sense of Christmas – it has become more about the gifts and the social calendar. This is where the season of Advent helps us to create proper space to receive Christmas as it has always been intended to be received.
Celtic Advent: Time to Prepare
Key to the season of Advent is the work of removing obstacles on the paths to our hearts and filling in the gaps and voids that exist. Consider in ancient days, the forerunner would go ahead of the king’s envoy and declare:
The king is coming!
There was no timetable for his arrival – many things might delay or stall his arrival or he might suddenly appear around the bend in the road. The forerunner’s task was to create awareness and encourage readiness. Boulders that had fallen onto the road were to be removed (a communal task). Potholes needed to be filled. The road was to be smoothed and shaped so that the king and his party could travel unhindered through the land.
Spiritually speaking, as we go through the year (or years), we accumulate a lot of rocks in the road that need to be removed. The rocks tend to represent things that we have done that are barriers to the King of kings coming into our hearts. It could be the relationships that we have abused. It could be the habits that we have formed. It could be the busy schedules that we have put in place.
The potholes are representative of the things that are “missing.” Here is where we have perhaps forgotten to pray. Here is where we have failed to love, failed to give, failed to be devoted. When we start to fill in these spaces we provide solid ground for the King to step closer toward us and do a transforming work in our lives.
The beautiful advantage of Celtic Advent is that we have more time to do the necessary heart, road-work. If I had a dollar for everyone in the church who said “Advent? Is Christmas only 4 weeks away?” I would have enough funding for CrossTraining for at least 4 years. If Advent is about creating space, then Celtic Advent is about having more time to declutter our lives and make room. I fear that if we don’t, we will mimic the innkeeper who said so many years ago, “There is no room here for Jesus.”
Rev. Brad Kenney