OK, we’re a couple of days into Advent, and it’s Dec. 1. Therefore, the Christmas Music Season has inarguably begun. Joy to the World!
As some of you know, I’ve already been knee-deep in tinselly tunes for more than a week already, but I’m glad that the rest of the world has finally caught up with me.
Except for the Anglican Church, that is.
You see, it’s liturgically incorrect to sing Christmas songs in an Anglican church before Christmas Eve – and even then, there are limitations. To croon about the birth of Christ as if it’s already happened (Joy to the World, Go Tell it On the Mountain, etc.) is still a technical no-no before Dec. 25.
There’s a certain logic to this, of course. It could be argued that this practice makes more sense than starting too early, but we’re not likely to change the minds of all those shopping malls and radio stations.
I should point out that my music team (at Holy Trinity Anglican Church: http://www.holytrinitycalgary.org/) simply can’t contain its joy until Christmas Day. We sing whatever carols we want on Christmas Eve, and have yet to hear a complaint about the liturgical appropriateness of this practice.
Up until a few days ago, I thought that abstaining from Christmas carols during Advent was common to all Christian churches, but apparently I was mistaken. My friend Brad Huebert (http://bradhuebert.wordpress.com/) is a pastor at a Mennonite church, and he mentioned over supper the other night that two-fifths of the songs in his church’s worship music sets throughout the four Sundays of Advent will be Christmas carols.
I was immediately jealous.
By Dec. 24, anyone who has turned on their TV or walked through Wal-Mart recently is probably quite tired of these tunes. By the last Sunday of the liturgical Christmas season (Jan. 2 in 2011), the songs have worn out their welcome for many of our parishioners.
Therefore, the revelation that we Anglicans have to save Christmas for Christmas, while other denominations are under no such limitation, annoyed me at first.
But not anymore.
It occurred to me (although I probably didn’t arrive at this notion all by myself) that if I leapt into Christmas during Advent, it would cheapen both Christmas and Advent for me.
Advent (for me, at least) is a dual-purpose season. On one hand, it provides somber, sober time to ponder and reflect – to mentally prepare myself for Christmas (thereby serving a similar purpose for Christmas that Lent serves for Easter). On the other hand, Advent is a wake-up reminder that Christ is coming again, that I need to be ready for when that day comes and that I have a lot of work to do to arrive at that state of readiness.
Advent songs like Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, Maranatha! and O Come, O Come Emmanuel (which admittedly also works as a Christmas song) would probably get lost in the shuffle, or lose their pre-Second Coming context if they were sung alongside Hark the Herald Angels Sing and O Come All Ye Faithful.
I need my Advent to be solemn. That way, when the unbridled joy of Christmas arrives, it’s that much more meaningful. And the less often we get to sing Christmas songs in church, the more special they are – to me, at least.
I’m not suggesting other denominations and congregations should change what works for them, but after wrestling with this question a bit, I’m satisfied that for me, at least, the wreaths aren’t greener on the other side of the tracts.
Peace be with you.