For some years now, I’ve been convinced that our Advent-observing practices get in the way of our intention to help our congregations focus on the inner meaning of Christmas. We all recognize that there are two observances happening at the same time — there’s the commercial and wholly secular mid-winter orgy of food, celebration and expenditure — and there’s a peace-filled and essentially quiet observance of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Contemporary Advent guidelines suggest (insist?) that we avoid Christmas music until the Christmas season — that is from December 24 thru January 6. Because much of the music associated with the birth of Christ has been co-opted by the commercial celebration folks, our congregants can be pretty much sick and tired of Christmas music by the time we get to Christmas. Just as we pull out “What Child is This?” our folks are about to scream from hearing it everytime they turned on a radio for the last 8 weeks. And they absolutely do not want to hear Christmas music much past the first Sunday after Christmas.
Much the same thing happens with the lectionary texts for the season. The lectionary gives scant attention to the actual story of the coming of Jesus, focusing instead on the second coming. I think the second coming is an esoteric, second-level piece of doctrine that does not speak to the spiritual needs of most main line Protestants. In the churches I’ve served, people do not yet know the story of the first coming well enough to get much meaning out of the second coming.
That’s why I depart from the lectionary during Advent and instead choose readings which tell of the first coming, as well as readings which make our need for someone like Jesus plain and clear. Then I use a combination of regular hymns, Advent songs and Christmas carols to bring home the point of the message.
I love Advent; I just think that we’ve missed the boat with the readings and music we use. If the goal of Advent is to prepare for Christmas, I think there are better ways to achieve it. Now, I know there are churches where standard Advent “works”… tho I bet the ban on Christmas music works more effectively than the lectionary does…. but here and now, this is what I’ve been thinking.