Last Monday John Stewart did a very funny bit on the Daily Show about how Christmas has gotten so big that it is starting to take over other Holidays – what we used to call Thanksgiving is now ‘Black Thursday’ … Watch out: you’re next Halloween!
And in one sense, it is true. Christmas has become, as many have articulated, a frenzied orgy of consumerism. My dean, Philip Clayton, in a piece entitled “ Reflections for a Time of Madness” points out:
In an irony of history, the time of spiritual preparation and silent waiting has become the busiest, most frenetic season of the year.
Now admittedly I am new to Advent. This will only be my third time through it. I have embraced it with gusto though! Last year I even bought a box of these amazing Liturgical Calendars and led a series of lessons on it in the Adult Ed. classes at our church.
In fact, when Stuart explains that the 12 days of Christmas is actually the period from Christmas day to Epiphany (January 6) when the Magi (Wise Men) are celebrated as visiting the baby king. The sad part is that just 5 years ago, that would have been news to me! I probably thought that not only was it the 12 days that led up to Christmas – but that I was showing great restraint to limit the season to just 12 days.
I love reading, listening to and even chatting with Phyllis Tickle and Dianna Butler Bass [one of my conversations with her] about all of the rich tradition and deep meaning that are to be found in walking these ancient paths.
And while I am very excited about the spiritual season of waiting and reflection, I have a new wrinkle in my fledging appreciation for the liturgical season. We have started a new emergent gathering (the Loft LA) that employs an ‘ancient-future’ sort of engagement.
This coming Sunday we are introducing the group to the Advent Conspiracy and I am very pumped to enter into the that conversation.
I am, however, a little less enthusiastic about introducing the topic of Advent itself. In fact, we have debated, prayed and really wrestled with how to approach this. Our liturgical service (10 am) does Advent that the 9s. We go all out. We even hold off singing the famous songs until Christmas day – even though we have this amazing (and overwhelming) pipe organ that would be a huge draw for those who like to sing the classics in preparation for the big day.
But is it worth it to bring up the topic to a crowd of newbies? My conviction is wavering.
Look, I love Christmas. I love the month of December and the lights and the presents and everything that goes along it with. I love singing Christmas carols in December! Do I really want to get into this counter-cultural restraint motif with new folks? Is it really worth initiating folks to this old way?
Part of me says no! The ship has sailed – that battle is lost. Christmas starts before December in our culture and we should capitalize on that as the Church! Stop being such sanctimonious nay-sayers and pious do-rights and join the party! Plan, strategize, and engage the people around you at the time the are most christianly-inclined!
They are singing things like:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
What the HELL is your problem?
Get with the program!
Shake off the dust Church Lady and roll with the times!
Then another part of me says ‘Advent makes so much more sense – is so much more meaningful – and aren’t we preaching an anti-mammon counter-cultural message anyway? Maybe we should cave in to culture. Maybe we should concede to the bloated, grotesque, shallow, hollow consumer and credit card carcass that christmas has become.’ Maybe Advent is still worth doing … even with new people.
Maybe, especially, with new people. Maybe giving them an alternative to the frenzied and hectic mess that December has become is exactly how we could minister to and with them.
Or maybe Advent is just one more of these sentimental oddities that the church likes to hold onto and even prides itself on hanging onto until it’s dying breath. It’s not like we own Christmas. Wait … we do kind of have an invested interest … one might even say a market share … and by God – we are going to love it to death.
As you can tell, I am quite unsettled on the issue. Thoughts?
[please let us know if you grew up with Advent in your response]
December 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm
I’ve already added my two cents on the topic (though I’d gladly discuss further if you’re interested). My question now, though, is what’s your beef with O Holy Night?
December 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm
No – the opposite! Thank is the greatest song in the world – not just Christmas songs – ALL songs!
and we can’t sing in December because it’s not an Advent song??? THAT is my beef! -Bo
December 11, 2012 at 7:49 pm
Thank God! I thought we were going to have to showdown on our hands.
We’re singing Christmas songs. But always alongside O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Not that I hate that at all. Just becomes kind of cliche. Maybe I can blame Bonhoeffer for this one too, but what’s starting to bug me more is this Talladega Nights-like obsession with the eternally infant Jesus, like the waiting of Advent is really about waiting for the birth of baby, like it happens again every year. And we wonder why people have a hard time conceptualizing Jesus as a person within the realm of history, instead of something strictly spiritual/”fictional”/whatever.
That being said, from a liturgical music standpoint, I grew up in a church that followed the tradition of “retiring the alleluia” during Lent. I was too young to appreciate it in the same way at the time, but even then there was something special about “resurrecting” it again on Easter Sunday. I’ve yet to find a tradition since that captured that same essence. I’m an admitted doubt-and-darkness-dwelling addict, but I just think there’s something powerful about corporately putting away the happy, joyful, jubilant crutches, if it means we can take a more honest look at what God is up to together.