I begin with the obvious: Advent is a season of preparing for the coming of Jesus. For many centuries in Western liturgical churches, it has (like Lent) been a penitential season. Though it is about remembering his first coming 2000 years ago, it has also been about his second coming at the last judgment and the need for us to be prepared through earnest repentance.
Thus, like Lent, the liturgical colors for Advent have been (and for the most part still are) violet or purple, the color of penitence. Recently, in some churches, the liturgical color of Advent has become blue, reflecting a change in emphasis.
Seeing Advent as a penitential season strikes me as unfortunate. It is the product of a seriously distorted and yet widespread understanding of Christianity: namely, that the central issue in our lives with God is our sinfulness (commonly understood as disobedience and/or failing to measure up to what God requires from us) and thus our need for repentance and forgiveness. Within this framework, that’s the reason Jesus was born. As the divinely-conceived Son of God, he was sent by God to be the perfect sacrifice, the payment for our sins, so that we can be forgiven. Provided, of course, that we believe in him.
Paige Baker wonders if Borg has gone too far in his understanding of Advent:
Although I have great respect for Marcus Borg, I disagree STRONGLY with this piece.
I look forward to the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. I don’t buy the traditional understanding of the atonement, but I think it’s important to recognize how we fall short of God’s ideal for us. Not in a self-flagellating way, but in a way that spurs us to do better and be better.
Advent is the perfect time for that for me. The capitalistic Christmas season is a stark reminder that God’s ways are not our ways–and that the way I live and the choices I make have a direct impact on people all over the world.
And this is where I think Borg misses the point: as a white, Western Christian, he (and I) have a lot for which to repent–and there is no time of year that highlights that need better than Advent.
It’s not about Jesus coming to “pay for our sins”–it’s about God taking human form and helping us to recognize and repent of our sins, and learn to care for each other–particularly the most vulnerable among us–and the planet on which we live.
Observing Advent as a penitential season is a way to remind myself of the need for true economic, social, and environmental justice. The only way that justice will be achieved is if privileged people like me (and Borg) acknowledge how we participate in systems of oppression, and work to dismantle them.
IMO, trying to avoid the penitential aspect of Advent is just another way of avoiding the hard call of Christ to give up what we value most in service to God and our fellow travelers.