This year for our after-dinner family Advent devotions we are using Doug Wilson’s new book, God Rest Ye Merry. There are four sections, the last of which are for family readings, and I finished reading the opening three sections last week. Wilson was definitely recycling content in this book, but unlike others where he has done that, this one read well and wasn’t choppy.
Celebrate the season like a Puritan!
Puritans are a byword for killjoys and prudes, but that stereotype did not at all fit the reformation-era Puritans, but rather their later American descendants. Of the original Puritans, Wilson includes this quote from C.S. Lewis:
If we may without disrespect so use the name of a great Roman Catholic, a great writer, and a great man, [the Puritans] were much more Chestertonian than their adversaries.
After stating that what the reformation-Puritans (several generations before they devolved into the stereotype) actually objected to was not the simple observation of Christmas, but of the excesses that were the norm in their day.
The Puritans were, unlike many modern evangelicals, very not-gnostic, and that is what we need to recover in our Christmas celebrations. After all, the Incarnation itself is about as not-gnostic as it gets.
This period of Advent is one of preparation for Christmas. If we want to celebrate Christmas like Puritans (for that is actually what we are), this means that we should prepare for it in the same way.
Then Wilson gives a few principles, including this:
Do not treat this as a time of introspective penitence. To the extent you must clean up, do it with the attitude of someone showering and changing clothes, getting ready for the best banquet you have ever been invited to. This does not include three weeks of meditating on how you are not worthy to go to banquets. Of course you are not. Haven’t you heard of grace?
On Advent as a time of preparation, Wilson opens one section with a very Adventy passage: Isaiah 40:1-8, which begins “Comfort, comfort ye my people.”
The text begins with comfort. Godly preparation does not begin with affliction, but such preparation actually ends affliction.
So, waiting and preparation do not necessitate keeping Advent dark and mournful.
There are two kinds of waiting. There is a waiting that causes our strength to dissipate, and there is a waiting that gathers our strength for us. There is a waiting that renews – an anticipation that is full of joy – and there is a waiting that is an emotional corrosive.
One of the reasons he gives for not making Advent (or Lent, as well), a season of fasting is that
So, let the joy – and the carols and the fudge and the gift-wrapping – pour forth during Advent!
What gospel is implicitly preached by the practice of drawing out to process of repentance and forgiveness? It is a false gospel. Now, I am not saying that fellow Christians who observe their church year in this way are preaching a false gospel, but I am saying that lex orandi lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of faith, and over time, this liturgical practice will speak very loudly to our descendants. If we have the opportunity to speak to our descendants, and we do, then I want to tell them that the joy of the Lord is their strength.