Keep Awake Therefore: Why an extended Advent might just be a gift to college ministries everywhere

At some point in seminary, I heard about this thing called “The Advent Project“, a seminar group of the North American Academy of Liturgy that was seeking to reclaim an Advent season largely lost to a Christmas consumerist culture.  The remedy, according to this group of scholars, would be to reinstate a seven-week Advent, which would begin the Sunday after All Saints.  A longer Advent, they argued, would realign us with our Orthodox brothers and sisters who still celebrate a longer Advent and with earlier Christian traditions of a seven-week Advent in the West, which were supplanted by our four-week Advent by the twelfth or thirteenth century.  A longer Advent, they argued, would oppose the skip-to-Christmas mentality of the Christmas shopping and party season that swings into full gear following Thanksgiving by setting before us an eschatological vision of the inbreaking kingdom of God.  We know that setting our eyes on God’s inbreaking kingdom reorients us from consumption to community, from calculated reciprocity to self-sacrifice and true generosity, from grasping at status and satisfaction to trying to stand before the God of justice who sees and knows us.  Perhaps a longer Advent would stir up a spirit of renewal in a church that gets swept up by the waves of culture.

“What a great idea!” thought seminarian Eileen, but I could never imagine myself in a parish that would actually take it up.  And then, I found myself doing college ministry.

At the University of Houston, classes end and exams begin as Advent starts.  For students writing final papers and taking exams, Jesus’ exhortation to “Keep awake” in the Mark’s gospel on Advent 1 tends to take on a different meaning than Jesus intended.  Students spend the first two weeks of Advent wandering through an anxious haze of sleep-deprivation before going home to a Christmas party and shopping season in full swing.  An extended Advent might just be the best gift that our college ministries can offer these students.  It is an invitation to practice a different type of discipline of staying awake, that is, a discipline of alertness to the ways in which powers that are not God claim authority and abuse the creatures of God and a discipline of just love reaching out to the margins and the marginalized.

So, this year, starting on November 12, Houston Canterbury is going to give this extended Advent thing a shot.  We will not be changing our lectionary readings at The Gathering as The Advent Project folks would recommend, but we will be changing up some of our other practices as we prepare our hearts and minds for Christ the King Sunday and a new Christian year.  If you are curious about how an extended Advent might look and feel, I invite you to join us on Sunday nights at The Gathering at St. Luke the Evangelist (3530 Wheeler Avenue, Houston TX 77004).

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