“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go…”
It’s true. We know it. That song lyric is spot on.
But in the church–the liturgical church–it seems that pastors do all they can to put the reigns on this Christmas season which is 95% commercial and 4% vague warm-fuzziness and 1% Jesus-light. As much as many Christians want us to “Remember the Reason for the Season” (Jesus), it’s not Jesus’ image that bombards us from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve. It’s Santa and reindeer and people having good times at parties and lots of food and sales and sales and sales and Christmas trees…with an occasional wink or a nod to the Son of God. Anyone who tells you that this “Christmas Season” is about Jesus isn’t really paying attention…. really. Even if he is the “Reason for the Season” he’s just an afterthought now.
And that’s why the liturgical season of Advent become such a counter-cultural season of the church year and such a fight for so many of us. While I am not a lectionary preacher anymore, I follow the outline of the church year and appreciate the cyclical nature of the theology of it when followed. And so, as Advent approaches I long to hear the stories anticipating the coming of the Christ Child in the manger and the Lord of Lords in glory to we and our people can grasp the significance of the King of Kings when he appears. I preach that Advent is a season where holy waiting is a virtue that stands against the instant gratification culture we live in today. I and others like me dig our heels in over the use of Christmas carols before Christmas Eve so that we don’t jump the theological gun by welcoming in Jesus before we’re ready to hear about his arrival. And, I have to admit without any shame whatsoever that I love to sing some of the rich, deep theology of our Advent songs…
Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee:
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring:
By Thy own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone,
By Thy all-sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Ahhh….. You can go back and reread that if you want. I’ll wait….
And, yet, it’s a battle.
The cultural forces of unrestrained consumerism and the endless barrage of Christmas trees and traditions make it hard to tell folks “not yet” as our worship works hard to point to the future coming of Jesus and not to “already-ness” of his arrival.
Our folks love the Christmas carols. They love them. And so do clergy as well. And it can be hard not incorporating carol after carol into the worship to satisfy the desire to sing them and join the (apparently) world-wide chorus around us.
There are grand traditions in many churches where the decorations, the trees, and the gatherings all celebrate the arrival of Jesus in a season where we are to be waiting and hoping that he would come.
And it’s a good battle to fight as we try to portray the larger picture going on around us.
This past week I preached about the death of Christ. For anyone who only heard the first half of the sermon, they might have thought they had walked in to a Good Friday sermon. But as the Prophets foretell the coming of one who bear our transgressions (Isaiah 53) and as the angel tells Joseph in a dream to name his child “Jesus”–God saves (Matthew 1:21) it’s imperative for us to understand that this salvation that is announced before Christ comes into the world is played out at the cross. The cross helps us understand this “Silent Night, Holy Night” that we long for. Now it may not have felt very “Christmas-sy” to folks. But I think it’s a good way to temper the cultural bombardment that we find all around us an and to remind us to be careful what we wish for…that this Christ-child we long to celebrate will be destined for the cross. We’re not just awaiting a cute baby in a manger. We’re awaiting our salvation.
It’s a message most folks don’t want to hear. “Advent Season vs. the Christmas Season” is a classic “David and Goliath” rumble. And with just some smooth stones…of Advent Songs, of a posture of waiting and anticipation, of some of our great Advent scriptures…we’re trying to claim a space where we say “not yet” to Christmas.
Yet, still, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas out there.
It’s hard to stop it.