This morning at worship my husband taught us the difference between looking at Advent as a season of preparation as opposed to a season of penitence.Â Some Christians view the Advent season as a time to “give up something” like they do for Lent. But if we give up facebook for Advent, and then tell all our friends about it, this is not a biblical fast. When we fast, or give up something, no one but God should know about it. (We should keep it to ourselves and not announce to everyone that we are giving up chocolate or coffee!) Jesus made fun of the Pharisees for letting everyone know when they were fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). “They have their reward.” Of course fasting can be spiritually healthy when done in a God-honoring way. Penitence means repentance, and that is something we should be eager to do all year long. Real repentance means rooting out real sin and bad habits.
We are sometimes tempted to feel guilty for things that God has not prohibited.Â But this is diabolical and comes from the accuser, just like the White Witch in Narnia who, when she saw the animals feasting and opening gifts, demanded to know “Why all this waste?” In the Garden of Eden there was only one tree forbidden in the midst of many trees. But ever since Adam ate the fruit, we have been frozen in that moment, thinking all the trees were forbidden, and that God does not want His people having too much fun. But that is slandering our good God.
If we view Advent not as a season of penitence, but as a season of preparation, that is not because we are against repentance. We are getting ready, putting things in order, smoothing out the road (Isaiah 40:1-8).Â Advent is much like the time we spend in the kitchen preparing a feast. It is a time of anticipation and excitement, standing on tiptoe waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. The angels brought glad tidings, and we want to live in such a way that we can bring these same tidings of comfort and joy to the whole world. And that can’t be done with a long face.