I have no patience for debates over the color of Advent candles and whether or not to sing Christmas songs in Advent. God became incarnate, and candles and carols are all some church professionals seem to care about. Give me a break. Here’s my problem with all this.
First, it’s adiaphora, which is a nice Greek word that means “it doesn’t matter”; it is inconsequential for salvation, and, in this case, one might say, just inconsequential whether your candles are purple, pink, or blue. The overwhelming public witness of Advent should be about counter-cultural waiting, repentance, and anticipation of the incarnation. It should not be about which hymns and candles to use.
Isn’t this just like the church? We get into these arguments about little things that only church people care about, and everyone else beyond the church (and you know there are more and more of those, right?) finds it completely irrelevant. No one beyond the church cares about these things. Really. No one. And we wonder, “Why aren’t people coming to our churches?”
It becomes what I’ve come to call “liturgical fetishism” — getting everything perfectly “right,” as if all those little details are effective for salvation, or even proper worship. They’re not.
What I see in this and many conversations around the church is a form of liturgical fundamentalism. We make the liturgy itself into God, in much the same way fundamentalists make the Bible into God. And whether you follow the proper rubrics becomes the measure of the quality of your leadership, perhaps even your character. At its worst, it becomes what I’ve come to call “liturgical fetishism” — getting everything perfectly “right,” as if all those little details are effective for salvation, or even proper worship. They’re not.
This is not what I learned in seminary from my wonderful liturgy professor, Gordon Lathrop. I learned that one should approach the liturgy with gentility, humility, and humanity. Liturgy is the work of the people, but it also ought to serve people of God and is always sensitive to context. Liturgy is always pastoral with a small “p.”
We can worship with integrity across styles and contexts. We can debate liturgical practice, but when it becomes our primary witness, it is a detriment to the work of the church.
Hopefully this Advent we can announce the season as an invitation to waiting, longing, love, and incarnation. Because, really, nobody cares about the color of your candles.
This article is adapted from Keith’s blog http://pastorkeithanderson.net and used with the author’s permission.
- Reaching More People During Advent by Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin
- Encouraging Personal Devotion During Advent by Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin
- Sifting Our Inheritance: What to Keep and What to Let Go by Christine Chakoian