There are many similarities between Lent and Advent. They are both seasons of waiting. They are often both ignored or forgotten by most people since the "big day" is easier to monetize. There are little rituals associated with them that help us to bide the time before Christmas and Easter respectively. Also, if we want to, we can create a spiritual walk for ourselves through daily observations, like writing (or reading) this blog.
That Easter and Christmas aren't actually days but seasons is also lost for the same reason. We like short, punchy, easily understood things. Both unfold over time in the midst of everything else. This is different, too. They militate against compartmentalization of life.
Yet they are also pretty different. Advent is very much the junior partner in this. So, too, is Christmas. Easter is the "high holy day" of Christianity. Lent is the time to prepare for that day, with--during Holy Week--a series of days all more important than the first day of Christmas. With this in mind, it is easy to think of Advent as a sort of "user friendly" version of Lent. Honestly, easy is just fine. The season is indeed an echo--in theological terms--of its spring counterpart. Waiting for a birth should be less demanding than waiting for a rebirth.
That is the big difference. Christmas is about birth. Easter is about resurrection. Christmas isn't really a story so much as the opening paragraph of a story. Now at the beginning of winter we are still able to celebrate. Our stomachs are full from the fall harvest and the first snow sounds exciting. After the long winter we emerge on the other side, looking forward to the return of new life. We love Christmas. We need Easter. We all start somewhere but we hit bumps on the road. We look for personal resurrections to get back to where we now belong.
You can see it in the movies we watch. Elf, It's a Wonderful Life, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, and A Christmas Carol are all really Easter stories set at Christmas time. It is further proof that we aren't celebrating Christmas so much as we are re-naming Yule. In these holiday stories, characters go from joy to sorrow and then are "reborn" back to a better state of being. In the course of It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey goes from an idealistic kid to a determined adult, then descends into despair, alcohol, financial ruin, and suicide. Finally, through divine intervention he realizes his place in Bedford Falls and understands that even though life is never perfect, he is "the richest man in town". The movie ends ambiguously, too. Mr Potter, the stand in for capitalist power and greed, still looms offstage.
Those elements-- the journey from contentment to despair to spiritual intervention to rebirth in an imperfect world--exists in all these holiday specials. This is not surprising. Resurrection is more interesting. We understand disillusionment. We understand tragedy. We know that the hard part is living that life after we are born. We are always in the process of losing and finding our humanity.
Of course, one could argue for two films as being closer to Christmas than any other. In the original How the Grinch Stole Christmas the titular character starts as evil and ends up as a pretty good guy. There is no real evidence of a past goodness that he is reclaiming. The goodness is born for the first time within him on that frozen cliff. The other is Die Hard. If we are saying that all these Easter stories are Christmas stories because of snow and holiday greenery...then Die Hard makes the cut.
This year I did a lot of experimenting with things that I enjoy. One of them was making YouTube videos of me hiking with my friends. Most of them are not very good. However, as with folk music and most of my other hobbies, excellence was not the goal. They were fun to do and I learned some things.
That said, there may not ever be a rebirth of my hiking vids. I just don't have the money or the time to invest in them. I am sharing one here, though. It is really about Lent but hits many of the themes of today as well. Here is looking forward the births that will bring about rebirths in the end.
I am a full-time pastor in a small, progressive church in Massachusetts. This blog is about the non-church things I do to find spiritual sustenance.