Preparation & Penitence

Michael Metzger

Even with covid-19, the wedding business remains big business. And that’s good. It reminds us of why the church calendar includes the Advent season.

Next Sunday marks the first Sunday in Advent. The church commemorates this season but I wonder how many Christians know why? The wedding industry helps here.

It’s a big industry. Revenues were $72 billion in 2019, $55 billion in 2020 (dang covid). Brides-to-be pay big bucks because people pay for things of value. The wedding industry’s value-add is preparation, helping the bride-to-be prepare for the big day.

But there’s a second value-add. Penitence. Surveys indicate 62 percent of brides-to-be and 60 percent of grooms want to lose weight before the big day. On average, brides want to lose 20 pounds. Losing weight requires repenting of bad habits (i.e. penitence), which is difficult (only 18 percent of brides hit their target weight by the big day).

Preparation and penitence. That’s Advent. It’s based on a spousal view of salvation, the gospel of God “marrying” us. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8-9), betrothed to Christ at the cross. We are being saved (I Cor.2:8), which includes preparation and penitence, two things that were spiritually meaningless to the Corinthian church. Our hope is to be presented to Jesus, our husband, as a pure virgin (II Cor.11:2). But the jury’s out. It depends on our preparation and penitence, determining how we will be saved (Rom.5:9).

This is why the two high holidays in the Christian calendar (Easter and Christmas) are preceded by preparation and penitence (Lent and Advent). The practice of Lent dates from the decrees of the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was considered a time of preparation and penitence.

The Council of Tours established Advent in 567 for the same reasons. Note the Advent wreath candles. Three are purple, a color symbolizing the penitential design of Advent. Penitence calls for worship music in minor keys. Quiet. Reflective. The third Advent candle on the wreath is pink, or rose. It represents a shift in the season of Advent away from penitence and toward preparation for the wedding celebration.

It’s sad to note Advent has been in decline “for a long time now.”[1] The music is rarely somber, reminding us of Flannery O’Connor’s lament that everything in church must be “positive,” upbeat. This renders Advent spiritually meaningless, a problem I cited last week. It might be why increasing numbers of Christians are leaving the church.

So let’s make Advent spiritually meaning-full. George Hunter cites Celtic Christianity as a way forward. It “made the gospel’s meaning vivid, engaged people’s emotions, and energized their response by engaging their imaginations.”[2] How? By framing Advent as preparation and penitence for presentation as the bride. That’s a wow.

If you want to be wowed by the gospel, but you’re not familiar with Celtic Christianity’s Advent liturgy, click the link. May your church make Advent spiritually meaning-full.


[1] Joseph Bottum, “The End of Advent,” First Things, December 2007, Volume 178, 20.

[2] George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach The West… Again (Abingdon Press, 2000), 48.


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One Comment

  1. Mike, that was beautiful! And funny and sad that weight is the leading evidence of penitence. I love performing weddings – it’s anticipation of blessings to come – a friend I know loves performing funerals. He helps them remember the blessings and the good times. Does the church calendar address “remembering the good times?”

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