Which do you prefer: Lent or Advent? I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, hands down, most people would vote for Advent over Lent.
Both Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation. Both anticipate joyous occasions: the birth of Christ and the resurrection of Christ. One is shorter than the other; Advent being four weeks whereas Lent is six weeks. But the biggest difference lies in their recognition and acceptance.
Frankly, Advent conjures up images of horse-drawn sleighs in angelic choirs whereas Lent is just, well, kind of irrelevant to many people; including Christian people. Advent chimes in with the hallmarks of Christmas but Lent doesn’t actually anticipate Easter, it focuses on the crucifixion. It is, consequently, tough for many people to find a point of connection.
People who feel this way often point to the way Lent begins. It starts with Ash Wednesday when people receive ashes on their foreheads as a sign of their mortality and need to repent. Nothing could be farther from what we, today, would consider “normal” behavior. Again, there is no point of connection. It doesn’t even commemorate a biblical event. It feels like an old and out-of-date Christian calling to feel awful about yourself for the next 6 weeks.
Of course, this is a very narrow view of what Lent has to offer but it is a very common take on this 40-day season. Working to present a deeper understanding of Lent, to recapture its relevance and apply it to today, to actually get people excited about it means encountering some pretty strong headwinds.
And I get it: It is easier to anticipate a birth than to prepare for a death.
That said, who doesn’t like a challenge?! From where I sit, Advent may be the “easier” time of year, but Lent actually gets at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Maybe that’s why (and this may surprise you) most clergy I know prefer officiating funerals over weddings. I know, right?! Why? Because there is a depth of emotion and faith that is much more prevalent at funerals. People tend to be more open to enhancing their relationship with God even as they are working through their loss. The cliché of officiating a wedding, on the other hand, is that the ceremony is necessary in order to get to the reception party. So the shorter the better. Lent and Advent can feel like that kind of difference.
So I’ll take Lent over Advent in that sense (not that anybody’s actually voting!).
Even with its dusty history, strange rituals of ashes, and language of penitence, it is a bright invitation to recapture what it means to walk with God and to companion with Christ. Sure, it’s messy and feels outside of the norm. That’s the point. “The norm” needs cracking open and Lent is just the tool to do that.
If you want to find out more, swing by on Sunday morning!
See you in church,