Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Advent and Prayer H

There's a tension in the Church between Advent as a time for looking forwards to Christmas and Advent as a time for looking forwards to Jesus coming again. I notice in the Daily Prayer that there's a shift from one to the other on 16th/17th December, which I assume is chosen to be a week before Christmas.

Part of the problem is that whoever put the Church calendar together made a silly mistake. In the official church calendar, the season of Christmas starts on Christmas Day, and then runs for a few weeks. But that's exactly opposite to how festivals work in the Old Testament and in common sense. In the OT, if festivals run for a week, the big event is at the end of the festival, not the start. Otherwise everything else is anti-climactic.

So by trying to say that the holiday starts with Christmas (as some rule-following liturgical purists claim), if we're going to avoid all the rest of the season being an anti-climax, we need something at least as big to end it. Some people try doing that with Epiphany, but it doesn't really work. Not in the West, anyway. So what happens is that New Year gets seen as the end of the festival, and then becomes the natural place to transfer the real celebrations too. Which is probably why New Year is getting bigger and bigger, partly at the expense of Christmas.

The obvious solution is to allow a decent period of time before Christmas - say 2 weeks or so - as a build-up to Christmas, with Christmas as then the climax of the festivities. Which makes Advent difficult again...

Advent is traditionally a time for thinking about the "four last things" - death, judgement, heaven and hell. As such, last Sunday fit fairly well with the end of our series on the Creed - thinking about Jesus coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom having no end.

I was preaching on this on Sunday, and made reference to Communion being a foretaste of the eschatological feast, except I said it in English. And I quoted "until he comes again" from 1 Cor 11:26 and the Anglican liturgy. And then, in the rest of the service, I noticed that those references were completely missing from the liturgy, because we were using Prayer H, which is the one normally used in Anglican Charismatic circles. I'm normally a fan of prayer H, because it misses out so much of the waffle that characterises the other prayers, which means it's more family-friendly and so on. But it also misses out all reference to Jesus' coming in glory. Why couldn't they just have put in "until he comes again" somewhere?

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