A call to Christian artists:
Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but “fully reveals man to man”. (23) In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.
Pope John Paul II, 1999 Letter to Artists
Quoted by Michael O’Brien, “Subsidiarity in Art”
The O’Brien article comes to me in a timely fashion; just last night I met some sisters for Advent prayer and the theme God put on my heart to pray for was the artists of our generation, a group to which my husband and I belong. We prayed that artists would ask God for the revelation of His heart, for new songs and new paintings, for new stories and new poems. I was led to Deuteronomy 8, where two verses stood out to me:
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
and Deuteronomy 8:18
And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
The first verse speaks directly to my heart this Advent, as I have been hungry for the culture of Redemption we are preparing to celebrate in the Feast of the Incarnation. He lets me hunger during this fasting time to remind me that I do not live on bread (read sensuality, the overwhelming of the senses, particularly at Christmastime) but on every word that proceeds from His mouth (and fittingly, the Word made flesh in the Incarnation). The second verse I came across last week in my Bible study about faith, and I have been praying it for Zachary and for me, in the sense of financial blessing. He gives us the power to get wealth so that He may establish His covenant! (And let me tell you the story of how we were blessed with an unexpected $1000 a week after I prayed this!) But last night God showed me that as an artist, He also gives me power to get a wealth of revelation from Him, to put into my music, my lyrics, my stories, my poetry. I find it delightfully interesting that Pope John Paul II also used the term “wealth” in his call to artists.
Fellow artists! Let us pray that the God of all the earth and of all beauty will give us power to get artistic and divine wealth, that we may share it with the world, bringing His words of redemption and love and grace to those in desperate need of it, ourselves included.
Grace to you in the hope of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God,
Readers, this season is a time of struggle for me. As I shared in my post a few days ago, the Advent season is upon us, according to the Church calendar. But according to the world around me, it is Christmastime.
Anyone else out there having a hard time leaving Christmastime behind and clinging to Advent right now?
I firmly believe that culture is the hinge to unlock the door of the heart (see my very first post here from March 2011). And so I have been ruminating on the idea of the day-after-Thanksgiving-to-December-25th Christmas cultural phenomenon. For the most part, it revolves around Santa and presents and putting up decorations and ‘Advent’ calendars with chocolate each day, etc. For many years I’ve tried the Christian bandaid–making the season from the day-after-Thanksgiving-to-December-25th really about Jesus and not about the secular hoopla. I feel like that’s sort of what the local Christian radio station is doing: repackaging the day-after-Thanksgiving-to-December-25th so that it fits into a Christian worldview.
For those who love this Christmas season or who think I lean toward radicalism (read “my sister” here), please believe me that I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Or should I say, the Baby out with the tinsel?) I value American culture even though a lot of it seems past redemption. I have warm fuzzies when I think of movies like Home Alone (specifically the first one) and turning on traditional Christmas carols as my family and I decorate the Christmas tree (on the 4th Friday of November, usually). And there are songs with great Gospel messages about hope and peace to the world that I like, even if not explicitly ‘Christian.’ So I have been riding the fence about listening to Christmas music and getting into the ‘Christmas spirit’ a little bit–not all the way, mind you. I’m trying to be a good Anglican.
This morning as I was listening to a secular radio station with Christmas music, I was thinking about this, my struggle, to embrace both the day-after-Thanksgiving-to-December-25 Christmas culture and the historically Christian season of Advent (see my previous post here). And I felt God speak gently to my heart that most often the way of Life in Him is counter-cultural. Leave it to God to speak things to me that I already know…but somehow it made a little more sense that it ever has before. (Thank you, Lord.)
And so today I have been challenged to truly make this Advent season devoted to preparing my heart for His second coming as we will celebrate His first coming in the Feast of the Incarnation (aka Nativity). I convinced my husband (pretty easily) to invest his Christmas music money into an Advent music playlist. Since we’re both music people, this is one of the main ways we will be focusing our hearts on preparing for Jesus’ second return. That means that from now until Christmas Eve, I will not be listening to traditional Christmas carols (without being a jerk about it, hopefully). And when I miss Bing’s White Christmas and my Ella Wishes You a Swingin’ Christmas album, I will be turning my attention to Jesus and our world’s (and my own) desperate need for Him to come into our hearts in a fuller way and for Him to come back.
Pray for me.
Oh, and here’s our Advent Playlist in an Excel document, if anyone is interested in making one of their own. By Advent songs, I mean songs that anticipate or express the longing of the human heart for salvation, and the hope we have the Christ will return.
So, what is Advent anyway?
The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin word adventus, ‘a coming, approach, arrival.’ In the Christian Church, we are currently in the first week of Advent, which also happens to be the beginning of the liturgical year on the Church calendar. It is probably strange to hear that the four weeks before Christmas are historically a season of fasting (like Lent before Easter)–our culture does not reflect that, Christian or secular. I am with most of you–Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving, carols on while we decorate, etc. (Confession: this year we put up most of our decorations the weekend before Thanksgiving!)
I say this with a little sadness: the church we attend does not sing Christmas carols until Christmas Day. (Sometimes we ‘cheat’ a little at a special service called “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which in Anglican tradition really shouldn’t happen until Christmas Eve, at the earliest.)
Why all this gloominess before Christmas Day? Shouldn’t we celebrate as long as we can that Jesus came to earth and became human? We know that December 25 isn’t actually the day he was born, but we should celebrate someday…
Well, Advent is a season of preparing our hearts for Jesus’ second coming as we remember the state of the world before His first coming. That means, yes–drawing near to Jesus with repentance and fasting (or abstaining, if what you’re giving up isn’t actually food. For me, it’s Facebook!). We prepare our hearts, like the carol says…and THEN! Heaven and nature will sing! The feast of the Incarnation (aka Nativity) is SUCH a cause for celebration! But it’s like gorging ourselves on the day before Thanksgiving only to be too full on Thursday to take a bite…does that make sense?
And the Church knows how to party. You know the song “The 12 Days of Christmas”? There are TWELVE feasting days, not just one, from December 25 to January 5. And then the season of feasting reaches its climax and conclusion on January 6, known by two names: Epiphany and the Day of the Magi. It is this day that God reveals His salvation to the world through the wise men and also the day we celebrate Jesus’ baptism.
So what do we do with all that jazz?
Zachary and I are torn about how to properly observe Advent while still longing for the ‘Christmas spirit.’ Please take no judgment from me–I’m all about listening to carols during Advent (because my fabulous husband plays them so beautifully on the piano!), but I cannot stomach the Christian radio in our town…it is almost exclusively Christmas music right now. We are focusing on preparing our hearts for Jesus’ 2nd advent by giving up things (like Facebook) to spend more time focusing on our need and the world’s need for Him. We are discussing what it will look like once Lily gets here–a present a day for 12 days instead of all on the 25th?
It’s hard to challenge the culture of my own heart that is practically in love with the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, because I know there are holy rhythms and timing, I believe that it’s definitely worth struggling through.
And in the meantime, I have written an Advent song. I pray that it points you towards Jesus and His second coming. And oh, will we celebrate then!