I have developed a humorous reputation among a few folks in our congregation as being a Scrooge when it comes to singing Christmas songs before Christmas. Many folks in the congregation have expressed a desire to start singing some of the traditional Christmas hymns in early December. I used to not have a problem with this. Before I understood the meaning behind the Advent season, I didn’t really stop and think about what we meant when we sang our Christmas hymns. But now that I do pay attention, it makes sense to me to pay more attention to why we sing something and when we sing it.
Advent means “anticipation.” The season is about being expectant, as we await the birth of Christ. We need to be intentional about holding onto that sense of expectancy, because our culture starts beating us over the head with Christmas months before Dec. 25. I see singing Christmas hymns too early as contributing to the deflation of the Christmas miracle. We can’t sing “Joy the world, the Lord is come” if he hasn’t come yet! What does it mean to sing about a manger when its occupants won’t arrive for several more weeks?
There are some who would argue that every Sunday is a Sunday worthy of singing a Christmas hymn (or an Easter hymn, for that matter). And I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. But it should be the church, of all places, that strives to protect the spirit of Christmas, to preserve it until the appropriate time to unleash the true joy of the season upon this hurting world. Does that joy lose a bit of luster on Christmas Day if we’ve already being singing about it for several weeks?
Part of the problem here is the lack of good Advent hymns. Let’s see, there’s “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and…er…and…um… There are actually a couple of other good ones in the Chalice Hymnal – “Christians All, Your Lord Is Coming” and “Come O Long-Expected Jesus,” for instance. But when folks are hearing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” at Walgreens on Saturday, they expect to sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at church on Sunday.
One solution is to re-word the Christmas hymns to fit the Advent season. How about, “Joy to the world, the Lord is coming.” Or “Hark! The Herald Angels Have Scheduled A Concert.” Maybe “Make plans to come adore him, make plans to come adore him, make plans to come adore him, Christ the Lord.” Hey, I’m trying!
This year, I’ve been a little less Scroogy on this issue. For our Hanging of the Greens service on Dec. 3, we sang a number of Christmas hymns (but not “Joy to the World”!). And I even had a big smile when I stood with several children in our church and we all sang Christmas hymns during our Carol Sing on Dec. 10. I’ve learned that pastoring a church is a lot like being in a marriage – it takes a lot of love, a lot of work, and a lot of compromise.
This topic got me thinking about what my favorite Christmas song would be. There are so many good ones that it’s hard to choose. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” while not technically a Christmas song, is one of my favorites, as is “What Child Is This?” And I like to sing, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
What about you: What’s your favorite Christmas song, and why?