Ahh, Advent! I love this time of year. I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning after being out of town the previous two days, and it was like walking into Heaven on earth. The tree was up, the garland and wreaths hung on the walls, and the paraments, which had been green for what felt like years, were now the royal purple of Advent, as a reminder that our King is coming once again.
I also love Advent because of the challenge it presents to me as a minister, which I talked about on Sunday during the sermon. How do we preach patience and anticipation when our whole culture is encouraging us to get our Christmas decorations out early and do all our shopping before Thanksgiving? As a society, we feel we are entitled to anything we want right when we want it, so waiting is a major inconvenience, not a natural part of life. So, when it comes to something as joyful (and financially lucrative) as Christmas, why wait?
When it comes to this time of year, the Christmas creep that seeps its way into our Advent time threatens the holy magic of the season. When stores deck the halls with Christmas items in November, the message we’re given is, “Hey, Christmas is here! Grab your stuff before you miss it!” Or, to paraphrase my minister friend Erin, this communicates a sense of “we’ve arrived” instead of the more appropriate Advent message of “we’ve got work to do.”
I admit to being an Advent purist. I don’t like when the red and green of Christmas tries to bully its way into my purpl-y Advent. And this has gotten me into trouble. You will not find us singing any Christmas carols during worship in December (OK, I may give in on Dec. 23, since it’s so close). To those of you who are upset by this, I sincerely apologize. I know how meaningful those songs are, and I love singing them as much as you. But my inner Scrooge recoils when we sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” if the Lord hasn’t come yet! The rest of the world is telling me that this season isn’t really about Jesus, so pretty much anything goes when it comes to doing Christmas.
I don’t begrudge those of you who love your Christmas music (including my wife). While I may not agree with it, I understand it. It’s good music! It carries wonderful memories for us. I love hearing the kids’ choirs singing their Christmas songs and I always look forward to the adult choir’s Lessons and Carols. Hey, at our Christmas fellowship dinner last Sunday I even mouthed the words to “Joy to the World,” which was a real challenge for me. So I’m not 100% Grinch. Just 99%.
I know some of you would disagree vehemently with me; in fact, some of you have. You want your Christmas music, and you want it now! That actually proves my point, but I won’t point that out to you lest I make you even more upset with me. Instead of lamenting the wait to get to the little town of Bethlehem, what if we sing our Advent hymns – and there several good ones – with the same passion and wonder with which we sing “Silent Night”? I love the minor tone of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” captures the mood of Advent. And this Sunday we’ll be singing “A Waiting Hymn,” a new Advent song to the tune of “What Child Is This?” (and with words by Rev. Erin Smallwood Wathen, former student intern here at Crestwood).
O Advent, where art thou? Probably buried under Black Friday flyers and drowned out by all-Christmas music radio stations. But not in church. Church should be the one place we don’t put the sleigh before the reindeer. Let’s celebrate the Christian year in its proper order, where Advent always comes before Christmas. I promise we’ll sing our favorite Christmas carols about the faithful coming and the angels we have heard on high and how baby Jesus was away in a manger. But we’ve got work to do.