November 26th, 2007

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Discipline and dissipation.
Between 1942 and 1945, over 1 million American troops were stationed in England preparing for the D-Day landings. Preparing and procreating, that is. Sensing the invasion wasnít imminent; GIs earned English enmity for being ìoverpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here.î Push-ups however replaced shacking up with the advent of the D-Day invasion. Discipline replaced dissipation. This might be one way to reframe the Christmas Advent season that has become nothing more than nostalgia.

For those under 50, here’s a quick recap of events leading up to D-Day. Through the late 1930s, England navely pursued a policy of appeasement with Adolf Hitler. A madman cannot be mollified, so on September 9, 1939 World War II broke out. Within three years, Hitler ruled Fortress Europe and Britain was bankrupt. Thus, when American GIs arrived, they were paid about three times as much as a British private. The US infantry was younger — mostly 17, 18, and 19-year-olds who ate a lot. Healthy diets fueled hormonal drives so that by the end of the war an estimated 20,000 children had been born as the result of relationships between British women and American GIs. Only the advent of the D-Day invasion made bodily discipline more imperative.

The advent of Christmas can work the same way. Christmas was once considered a day of invasion (we would say incarnation). It’s our D-Day. GIs did not storm Normandy beaches armed only with good intentions and knowledge of the landscape. They also had trained and toughened bodies. In the same way, Jesus’ incarnation reminds us of our engagement in spiritual warfare. Prayer, worship and Bible study are necessary, but insufficient. We also need trained and toughened bodies (yes, our arms and legs, along with lips and appetites) to be allies in spiritual warfare. This is the gist of the Apostle Paul’s injunction: do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.1 Advent can be a unique training time since it signals the approach of Christmas and can heighten our awareness of spiritual warfare.2

This is why the advent of Christmas is also a time of penitence. We were made to enjoy life yet Adam and Eve changed the game when they lost a naive game of appeasement with the serpent, the devil. The human race was bankrupted but not abandoned. Preparations began immediately for the retaking of Fortress Earth.3 The culmination was Christmas, the coming of Christ, which was a bloody invasion.4 It’s our D-Day. Advent therefore includes penitence, which is why three of the Advent wreath candles are purple (a color that symbolizes the penitential design of Advent in liturgical churches).

The need for disciplines and penitence first led to the practice of Lent, which dates from the decrees of the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was considered a time of restraint and remorse. The Council of Tours established Advent in 567 for the same reasons. Lent and Advent were periods of discipline (such as silence, solitude and fasting) and penitence to train and toughen Christians’ bodies and appetites for the task before us. This would prove prescient, since within a little over one hundred years, Islamic forces would obliterate Nicaea and claim vast areas of Europe and the Middle East.5 Christians came under unspeakable persecution while the Western church became something of a large ghetto, dominated and largely surrounded by the superior culture and military power of Islam and precluded from missionary advance.6 Christians were in a life-and-death struggle for hundreds of years. Lent and Advent were indispensable aids for success.

This is not a news flash but the Christmas Advent season, sadly, has been for a long time now some nostalgia that insists on substituting melancholy for the somber contrition and sorrow of forward-looking Advent.7 It’s less about disciplines and more about Discover cards. Since Christmas is no longer imagined as D-Day, Advent is no longer about training our bodies and appetites. Whether or not Americans are overpaid, a case can be made that a majority of us are overfed. And our media is certainly oversexed. And it’s a problem we face over here.

Perhaps we ought to call the Christmas Advent season AdLent. Lent is still vaguely remembered as a period of denial and discipline to train and toughen our appendages and appetites as allies. The Christmas Advent season was designed to accomplish the same thing. Reframing it as AdLent might help restore a healthy penitence and toughen our bodies as members as instruments of righteousness to God.

1 Romans 6:13
2 For those familiar with this struggle, I’d suggest a quick reading of Revelation 12.
3 C.f. Genesis 3:15, God begins to promises redemption and begins to prepare an invasion force: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
4 C.f. Matthew 2:16-18
5 C.f. Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996), p.48
6 Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p.4
7 Joseph Bottum, “The End of Advent”, First Things, December 2007, Volume 178, p.20    Send article as PDF   

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