November 30, 2010

Why we are singing Christmas carols this Advent...

There have been a number of interesting conversations going on around how we keep Advent and Christmas. 

Taylor Burton-Edwards has suggested that what we actually experience is something more like Admastime... leaving the "vent" and the "Christ" out of it completely. 

In the time that I have known what Advent was... and I have to be honest that it wasn't really until seminary days that I started keeping Advent... I have been a stickler about waiting.  I like the build-up of the moment.  I think that the liturgical seasons and the calendar create a sense of movement and energy and emotion that is captured in this quote by Frederick Buechner:
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.— Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, pp. 2,3
While we are always, and every moment waiting for the coming of Christ... we forget.  We forget the longing.  We forget the tension.  Advent reminds us.  It reminds us that time is of the essence.  It reminds us to wake up and to be ready.  It reminds us that any moment might be the moment. 

That is a hard state-of-mind to embody for our whole lives.  It sure seems like the Thessalonians tried.  They stopped everything to wait for Christ to come, and Paul had to gently remind them that they still had to work and eat and go to school.  Life must go on... and yet the waiting is still in the background.

So I relish the minor keys of Advent.  I find peace in the longing.  I find hope in the reminders that soon and very soon Emmanuel will come.  It is such a contrast to everything that skids out of control around us. And then, since I made everyone wait... we have a grand old hymn sing the Sundays after Christmas and into Epiphany. 

But this year, I caved.  I gave in.  We are singing Christmas carols this Advent.

It was something I struggled with... but in the end, this year it felt right.

We are using the "Life-Giving Christmas" materials from the UMC & Rethink Church.  And as contrived as "Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love" might be... I think the materials are really helping us to move to a different place this year as a congregation. 

Advent for me has two tasks:  to prepare us for the birth of Christ (which we celebrate as Christmas) and to prepare us for the second coming of Christ... the end/beginning of it all. 

What I have found is that quite a few of our Christmas carols actually do allow us to take both of those things seriously.  Sunday, we sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and really focused on the last verse: 
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmauel!  (UMH #230)
That longing for the Savior to come is the same today as it was in the days of Mary and Joseph. The child has been born and still we wait.  And now that we have used that song in church... now that we have talked about waiting for THE hope of the world... perhaps when the song comes on the radio, or begins playing in the mall... the gears will shift just a little bit, the chaos will be jarred, the spirit will speak, and we will pause to wait. 

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