I’m clearly working my way back through my overflowing inbox. After commenting last night on Marcus Borg’s recent post on Christmas, I ran across his equally helpful post on Advent from a few weeks ago. Here is the main argument:
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.
That is a serious impoverishment of Christianity and Advent. Christianity and Advent are about so much more. The central themes of the stories of Jesus’s birth (about which I will say more in my blogs about Advent in the next few weeks) are hardly at all about sin and our need for forgiveness.
Rather, they and the texts from the Old Testament that they echo are about a much more robust, attractive, and compelling vision of what Christianity, Advent and Christmas are about.
Once again, Borg is approaching this season from an understanding of Christianity that does not make central human depravity and an antiquated view of substitutionary atonement. Please note, though, that this does not mean he dismisses the necessity of theological reflection on sin and the havoc it wreaks in our lives and in the world. This just isn’t the sole lens through which to understand the human condition and the mission of Jesus.
I also encourage you to consider the rich biblical themes he lifts up as central to Advent. The charge that progressive scholars and theologians like Borg are not grounded in scripture is preposterous. Rather, what you will find in these themes is a more holistic approach to the Bible that is thoroughly immersed in the whole of scripture, not a myopic focus on certain New Testament themes and the particular ways they have been interpreted by subsequent Christian theology.