Two candles on the Advent Wreath are lit. CNS photo/Karen Bonar, The Register

Let’s get radical and profess our faith

  • December 15, 2022

"By the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness"
-- Galatians 5: 22

Advent has always had a special importance to me, a type of monumental weight signalling what is unquestionably the most consequential moment for humanity: the arrival of Jesus. It is a time of waiting and preparation, marked by the gradual lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. 

So, I was surprised when I read a dictionary entry that gave as its first example of the word’s meaning: “the advent of television.” Why I was surprised is beyond me. In our secular age, the Christian faith has not just been marginalized but demonized as well, so we dare not utter the word in public. 

Am I wrong in thinking that it is perfectly acceptable to celebrate one’s faith in the public domain? That it is not an attack on other’s faith, or those of no faith, to celebrate one’s belief? Is it not a glorious thing to have a nation that allows freedom of thought and religion when so many other spaces savagely suppress it? And is it not a terrifying, counter-intuitive situation when government instrumentality bans religious imagery on a person in a democratic nation? Those same individuals who called for a law to ban crucifixes, hijabs or yarmulkas in public office are the ones who argue most loudly about the importance of personal freedoms. What about the freedom to believe? 

Even saying this, however, is decried as extreme. So, many remain quiet. But the quiet and waiting of Advent is of a different nature. Here the stillness of waiting is about anticipation and joy. Advent marks the physical birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the presence of Christ in our living world, and the anticipation of His second coming. The four “pillars” of Advent celebrate hope, love, joy and peace, those radically scary concepts that so many try to silence! The four Advent candles, two purple, pink and white, mark repentance for our sins, the joy of coming salvation and the white of Christ’s purity. How Christians can get away with such seditious thinking is beyond me. 

The candles have terrifying names, too. The first is the Prophecy Candle and is the colour of liturgical vestments. It stands for hope, prayer and contemplation. Good God! The second is the Bethlehem Candle, also purple or violet, and invokes the Holy Family’s time in Bethlehem. Shocking! The third is the Shepherd’s Candle and signals the turn from repentance to the celebration of the coming birth. The final candle, is the Angel’s Candle. Its whiteness represents hope and purity and justice, brought to us by a sinless Christ.What is the world coming to?

If you think the candles are bad, there’s worse. Take the traditional Advent readings. Like the terrifying meanings of the candles, the readings can stir the blood. In week one, Isaiah dares tell us, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah is at it again in the second week announcing, “Every valley shall be lifted up … Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” Matthew chills us to the bone in week three: “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (2: 10). But it is John in week four who has the last terrifying word: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16). 

There’s more. The tradition of Advent calendars spread so far that even children make them in schools, recklessly promoting hope and good cheer. And I haven’t touched on Advent hymns with such seditious titles as “For unto us a child is born.” 

This Christmas let’s do something truly radical — something which will apparently destabilize freedom-loving society. Let’s mark this blessed event through radical prayer, kindness towards others, celebration of family and spreading authentic care and goodness. It’s hard to know if civilization can survive such extremism. Heaven help us if the Word gets out!

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

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