Advent

Beyond the War on Christmas: AP serves up an advent story that fails to mention Advent

Beyond the War on Christmas: AP serves up an advent story that fails to mention Advent

It’s time for a major-league GetReligion flashback.

It has been a decade since M.Z. “GetReligionista emerita” Hemingway wrote a post — a low-key nod to the whole “War on Christmas” school of media coverage — in which she talked about the overlooked religious traditions that, once upon a time, millions of Christians followed in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

The name of her post back in 2008: “The War on Advent.” Here is MZ’s overture:

Of all the seasons of the church year, the first — Advent — is definitely the one that leaves me feeling most out of touch with my fellow Americans. While everyone else is frantically shopping, decorating, partying, those Christians who mark Advent are in a period of preparation and prayerful contemplation. The disciplines of Advent include confession and repentance, prayer, immersion in Scripture, fasting and the singing of the Great O Antiphons and other seasonal hymns. …

The season is marked by millions of Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and many other Christians, but not only do you rarely see any media coverage of it, the media actively promotes the secular version. 

Advent ends on Christmas Eve with the beginning of the Christmas season. In America, the end of Advent coincides with the end of the secular Christmas season/shoppingpalooza. Just as my family is putting up Christmas trees and lights and buying gifts for friends and family, much of the rest of America is experiencing the post-Christmas hangover.

This is all true. I thought that back when I was an evangelical Anglican and I feel that way today as an Eastern Orthodox Christian — only we observe Nativity Lent. Yes, I have written about this topic here, here and here (in which I asked Siri for some seasonal info). You get the point.

So what is Advent? Here’s a piece of yet another column I wrote on that. The voice here is the Rev. Timothy Paul Jones, a Baptist who is the author of “Church History Made Easy.

… Jones noted that "Advent ... comes to us from a Latin term that means 'toward the coming.' The purpose of this season was to look toward the coming of Christ to earth; it was a season that focused on waiting. As early as the 4th century A.D., Christians fasted during this season. ... By the late Middle Ages, Advent preceded Christmas by 40 days in the Eastern Orthodox Church and by four weeks in western congregations." Advent was then followed by the 12-day Christmas season.

This brings us to an Associated Press story with this rather non-liturgical headline: “Forget the chocolate: Advent calendars go for booze, cheese.

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File this away for use in 2018: Adelle Banks at RNS digs into 'Blue Christmas' rites

File this away for use in 2018: Adelle Banks at RNS digs into 'Blue Christmas' rites

A couple of decades ago, one of the best sources for religion-beat stories about church life was a researcher named Lyle Schaller.

Schaller was -- yes, this sounds a bit odd -- a United Methodist expert on evangelism. He was the rare mainline Protestant leader who was actually interested in why some churches gained members, while others were losing them.

Back in the mid-1980s, I interviewed him about the difference between so-called "Easter Christians" -- people who only show up at Easter -- and "Christmas Christians." I bring this up because of an excellent Religion News Service feature by Adelle Banks that ran the other day about churches that hold "Blue Christmas" services in the days leading up to Dec. 25. Journalists need to file this story away for future reference.

Hold that thought. First, let's return to Schaller. This is from the tribute column I wrote when Schaller died in 2015:

The research he was reading said Christmas was when "people are in pain and may walk through your doors after years on the outside," he said. ...  Maybe they don't know, after a divorce, what to do with their kids on Christmas Eve. Maybe Christmas once had great meaning, but that got lost somehow. The big question: Would church regulars welcome these people?
"Most congregations say they want to reach out to new people, but don't act like it," said Schaller. Instead, church people see days like Easter and Christmas as "intimate, family affairs … for the folks who are already" there, he said, sadly. "They don't want to dilute the mood with strangers."

Christmas, he stressed, was a chance for actually evangelism and healing. It has become one of the most painful times of year for many people in an America full of broken and hurting families.

The lengthy Banks feature focuses on that angle, as well as people facing Christmas after the death of a loved one. Here is the overture:

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The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

The liturgical color purple: Did Clintons make a statement about politics or faith?

All over the world, millions and millions of Christians know what the color purple means.

More than anything else, it stands for seasons centering on the repentance of sins. Thus, it is the liturgical color for vestments and altar cloths that the truly ancient churches -- think Eastern Orthodoxy and the Church of Rome -- associate with Great Lent and also with the season known as Nativity Lent in the East and Advent in the West.

Of course, in the modern world Nativity Lent/Advent has been crushed by the cultural steamroller of Shopping-Mall Christmas (which already seems to be underway in television advertising). But that's another story, as in the actual cultural War on Christmas (as opposed to you know what).

Purple is also the liturgical color associated with royalty, as in Christ the King. In Western churches -- especially oldline Protestant churches -- most people link this connection with the purple candles in an Advent wreath. United Methodist churches retain some of these traditions through historic links to Anglicanism.

This brings us news-media speculations about why Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton elected to splash purple into their wardrobe when she gave her speech conceding that Donald Trump had won the presidency. Let's start with the top of this U.S. News & World Report take on the topic:

Hillary Clinton conceded the presidential election to Donald Trump on Wednesday in front of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Both Clintons made a bold statement with their clothing: Hillary donned a dark gray pantsuit with purple lapels and a purple blouse underneath, and Bill wore a matching purple necktie.
Throughout her campaign, Clinton has often sent a message with her fashion choices, so what did the purple ensemble mean?

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An Advent miracle? Check the fine details in the baby in a Queens manger story

An Advent miracle? Check the fine details in the baby in a Queens manger story

Why a purple towel?

If you have followed the news online in the past day or so, you have probably seen reports about the newborn baby that was left -- umbilical chord still attached -- in a manger scene inside a church in Queens.

It has been interesting to follow the coverage as it developed, with a strong burst of holiday sentiment from news producers everywhere who have been quick to proclaim, "It's a Christmas miracle!"

Ah, but there are some intriguing fine details in this story that are worth pondering. Let's start with an early Reuters report, as circulated by Religion News Service. This is pretty much the whole story:

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A newborn with his umbilical cord still attached was found lying in a manger at a New York church, police said on Tuesday.
At Holy Child Jesus Church in the borough of Queens on Monday, the custodian found the crying infant wrapped in towels in the indoor nativity scene he had set up just before his lunch break, a New York police spokesman said.
Father Christopher Ryan Heanue, one of the priests at the church, said he and others placed a clean towel around the baby while waiting for paramedics to show up.
“The beautiful thing is that this woman found in this church -- which is supposed to be a home for those in need -- this home for her child,” Heanue said, referring to the person he assumes left the baby there.

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War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

War on Christmas: Is it actually taking place at shopping malls and churches?

So why was that whole Starbucks red cup winter blend outrage thing considered a major news event in the first place?

Yes, you had a former evangelical pastor serving up a click-bait selfie video that let to YouTube after YouTube after YouTube and snarky story after story after story. I thought that this Washington Post something-or-another took the prize for capturing the tone of the media product being served up.

But about that wave of outrage. You know, folks who know something about evangelicalism and its leaders had to stop and ask: Precisely who is Joshua Feuerstein and how in the world did this unknown guy end up getting waves of media coverage?

As you would expect, the Starbucks wars were the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, but host Todd Wilken and I did everything we could to try to find some actual news hooks linked to this fiasco. Click here to tune that in.

For starters, all of this was supposed to have something to do with (a) lots of Christians being upset (although there was next to zero evidence that this was true) and (b) the Christian season of Christmas, which begins on Dec. 25 and continues for the following 12 days.

No, honest. Stop laughing. You can look it (but don't ask Siri).

Then there was this other Washington Post red-cup piece that -- along with the Stephen Colbert piece at the top of this post -- kind of pointed toward the topic that dominated the Crossroads taping.

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This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

This is not a news story! But, alas, we are likely to see more brews coverage about it

It's the question that drives editors crazy in this age of click-bait media: Why do some stories go viral, while others do not?

How about viral news stories in which there is little or no evidence that there is actually a story to be reported in the first place?

I'm talking, of course, about the spew your liquid caffeine on your keyboard levels of media attention dedicated to the Starbucks hates Christmas story that broke out this week, after the usual craziness in social-media land. See the post by our own James Davis with the pun-tastic headline, "Red Cup Diaries: Mainstream media cover Starbucks' Christmas brew-haha." Apparently, there is some kind of pay-cable reference in that naughty headline, too, but that went over my head.

On Facebook, I offered this mini-rant:

Is it acceptable for me to be very upset that millions of Xians think that it's already Christmas and we haven't even started Nativity Lent yet? I mean, who runs their churches, the god of the local mall?

The graphic at the top of this post, passed along by the edgy and hilarious graphic novelist Doug TenNapel, says it all.

At least, I thought it said it all, until M.Z. "GetReligionista emeritus" Hemingway, now with The Federalist, went old-school GetReligion on this mess in a piece that ran under this headline: "Nobody Is Actually Upset About The Starbucks Cup. Stop Saying Otherwise." MZ did her thing, but then turned this piece into some completely different -- making it must reading for journalists facing the challenge of finding valid pre-Christmas stories to cover this year (and every year, come to think of it). Her piece opened with this summary:

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Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Can you hear the clock ticking as our culture veers toward open warfare?

Can you hear the shopping malls preparing their displays, the lawyers preparing for combat, the atheists preparing their posters for protests, the spin-zone Fox opinion writers preparing their scripts?

Here comes the War on Christmas 2015.

The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway –GetReligionista emeritus – knows what is coming and jumped into the fray early, but not on the subject of Christmas alone.

Right up front, let me stress that I realize that her recent piece at The Federalist, "Forget The War On Christmas, The War On Advent Is Worse" was not a journalism piece. However, it was an essay with implications for how journalists can (I would plead "should") think about one angle of the Christmas coverage that is to come. Thus, I thought I would share a piece or two of it.

There are some potential angles in this piece for journalists thinking about Christmas Wars coverage.

Angle No. 1: When does Christmas actually begin? In the culture? In the Christian tradition, as opposed to the "American" tradition, the shopping mall tradition?

Angle No. 2: At what point are ordinary Americans already swamped with stuff that is allegedly linked to Christmas?

Angle No. 3: Does any of this have anything to do with religious faith and practice?

Here is M.Z. getting rolling:

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Keeping Lent: Not once a year but four times

Whatever happened to the Lenten disciplines that used to be part of Advent, in the weeks before Nativity? How do they differ from the season of Lent? As Christendom nears the annual season of Lent, this refers to the Orthodox Church’s little-known practice of not just one but four seasons each year of Lenten-type fasting. “Great Lent” leading up to Easter is familiar. But traditionally, Orthodoxy also observes a Nativity Fast from mid-November (or later) through Christmas Eve, and two other seasons of abstinence from specified food and drink.

As the question indicates, average Eastern Orthodox members in western nations often ignore the traditional disciplines except for Great Lent. And Bishop Timothy Ware of Oxford, England, a British convert to Orthodoxy who became a bishop, remarks that the customary regimen “will astonish and even appall many western Christians.” In other words, these ancient traditions tend to be practiced even less in Western churches, including among Roman Catholics.

Father Thomas Hopko, retired dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary (and a high school friend of The Guy) explains the Orthodox concept.

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