Prepare, Celebrate, Repeat
It is that time of year again. Not Black Friday, Cyber Monday, the Iron Bowl aftermath, or anything of the sort. No it is Advent, the beginning of yet another liturgical year. We might have never considered the question, but why do we need a liturgical year, or even Advent itself? We could ask the same thing about Lent, or Ordinary Time, or the Christmas season. Surely, if we were of a minimalistic mindset, we might consider only two annual celebrations, those of course being Christmas and Easter. Some Christians have basically done exactly this sort of thing, limiting annual celebrations to just Christmas and Easter, eliminating every other feast and season. Some, such as the Puritans, took it a big step further. Both in England and New England they banned Christmas and Easter. In fact, Christmas was outlawed in England from 1647 until 1660 and in New England from 1659 to 1681 because of the Puritans.
In Massachusetts, churches were mandated to remain closed on Christmas and businesses were required to be open to thwart any form of celebration. In both England and New England, Christmas became a day of mourning and fasting, a day when the protestant work ethic was to supersede any joy that the birth of Jesus might foster. In England, mince pies were banned at Christmas, along with other seasonal treats that traditionally marked the season. This ban lead to the Canterbury ‘Plum Pudding Riots’ in 1658, the response to which was sending the military to Canterbury to enforce the joyless nature of the Puritan Christmas. That the bans on Christmas were short, 13 years in England and 22 years in New England, is telling.
One of the Puritan arguments made against Christmas was that it was unbiblical. Granted, nowhere does the New Testament mandate the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but it can hardly be argued that the Bible prohibits the celebration of God being born into this world as a man. Nor can we say that celebration significant events is banned, outlawed, or discouraged in the Scriptures. It is not like the Law of Moses prohibits the celebration of the Passover every year. No, its celebration was mandated: “You will keep this practice forever as a statute for yourselves and your descendants. Thus, when you have entered the land which the Lord will give you as he promised, you must observe this rite. When your children ask you, ‘What does this rite of yours mean?’ you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice for the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he delivered our houses’” (Exo 12:24-27). Likewise, “For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day will also be a festival to the Lord. Unleavened bread may be eaten during the seven days, but nothing leavened and no leaven may be found in your possession in all your territory. And on that day you will explain to your son, ‘This is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ It will be like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord will be on your lips: with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You will keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year” (Exo 13:6-10).
If the Passover is to be celebrated year after year, the perpetual commemoration of the feast marking the liberation of the Israelites from the bondage of slavery, how much more ought we celebrate and commemorate the events that mark mankind’s liberation from slavery to sin and death? If the Passover celebrated the beginnings of the occupation of the Promised Land, how much more does Christmas signify the beginnings of our entry into the eternal Promised Land of heaven?
Notice also that the annual celebration of the Passover was not just a celebration preceded by a penitential period much as Advent precedes Christmas, it also was intended to be catechetical in nature. In other words, annual celebration of the liberation of the Israelites is meant to pass on its significance to succeeding generations. It is a time to anticipate, celebrate, learn, and relearn what God has done. We repeat celebrations for a reason, we celebrate seasons for a reason. Thus St Peter teaches “Therefore, I will always remind you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you have” (1Pet 1:12). The truth bears telling and retelling, living and reliving.