With the advent of D-Day, troops got serious about preparation. That’s a helpful way to better understand Advent, as well as Lent.
D-Day didn’t seem imminent to the over 1 million American troops stationed in England from 1942 to 1944. So they spent more time in pleasures (i.e. procreating) than preparing. By the end of the war, an estimated 20,000 children had been born as the result of relationships between British women and American GIs.
GIs could afford the diversion, being paid about three times as much as a British private. They were also younger—mostly 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds. Hence, hormonally active GIs earned English enmity for being “overpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here.”
This all changed with the advent of D-Day. Bodily discipline became imperative.
It works the same way with the imminence (advent) of Christmas. Christmas is invasion, or incarnation. It’s the church’s D-Day. GIs did not storm Normandy beaches armed only with good intentions and knowledge of the landscape. They also had trained and toughened bodies. Jesus’ incarnation reminds we’re in spiritual warfare. Prayer, worship and Bible study are necessary, but insufficient. Trained and toughened bodies are necessary.
This is the gist of the Apostle Paul’s injunction: “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom.6;13). Advent is a training time since it signals the imminence of Christmas. It reminds us of the first Christmas, a mind-boggling spiritual war (c.f. Rev.12).
This is why the advent season is also a time of penitence. Created to enjoy life, Adam and Eve lost a naïve game of appeasement with the serpent, the devil. The human race was bankrupted but not abandoned. Preparations began immediately for the retaking of Fortress Earth (Gen.3:15). The culmination is Christmas, the coming of Christ, which was a bloody invasion including the slaughter of innocent children (Mt.2:16-18).
Older church traditions commemorate penitence with the Advent wreath candles. Three are purple, a color symbolizing the penitential design of Advent. Penitence also calls for worship music in minor keys. More quiet and reflective. Not boisterous.
The need for disciplines and penitence first led to the practice of Lent, which dates from the decrees of the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was considered a time of restraint and remorse. The Council of Tours established Advent in 567 for the same reasons. Lent and Advent were periods of discipline (such as silence, solitude, and fasting) and penitence to train and toughen Christians’ bodies and appetites for the task before us.
These practices would prove prescient. Within a little over one hundred years, Islamic forces would obliterate Nicaea and claim vast areas of Europe and the Middle East. Christians came under unspeakable persecution while the Western church became “something of a large ghetto, dominated and largely surrounded by the superior culture and military power of Islam… and precluded from missionary advance.” Western Christians were in a life-and-death struggle for hundreds of years. Lent and Advent were indispensable aids for success.
I know this isn’t a news flash, but the imperative of Advent and Lent has been in decline “for a long time now.” Modern church music remains upbeat, reminding us of Flannery O’Connor’s observation that the church’s heresy today is that everything must be “positive,” upbeat. Spiritual disciplines are hardly mentioned. We’re more like GIs, confident the return of Christ is not imminent. Be passionate rather than prepared.
I don’t know what will make Christians serious about preparation. Maybe we ought to reframe Lent as Advent, and Advent as AdLent. Might get a few to ask what’s that all about?
 C.f. Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996), 48.
 Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Eerdmans, 1995), 4.
 Joseph Bottum, “The End of Advent,” First Things, December 2007, Volume 178, p.20