Rachel and I walked into a department store several weeks ago looking for some last-minute Halloween décor. We were surprised to find all the candy and costumes replaced with Christmas lights and artificial trees. Our culture seems to start celebrating Christmas earlier every year. I never thought much of it before I came to City Pres. It has become increasingly apparent however, that in liturgical churches like ours, we follow a very different calendar than the rest of the world.
According to the traditional liturgical calendar, Christmas time actually begins on December 25th and last for 12 days until Epiphany, which marks the visit of the Magi and the revelation Christ’s birth. Until then, for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we celebrate Advent. Advent is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of Christ. We reflect on the centuries of waiting for the initial fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a savior, and we also long for the consummation of that promise when Christ returns to make all things new. Advent isn’t about “Christmas cheer,” but more about lamenting our current state of brokenness, and crying out to God “How long?”
For these reasons, contrary to popular American culture, Christians traditionally sing songs of longing and waiting (songs like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus) during the season of Advent, and save songs proclaiming and celebrating Christ’s birth until the actual season of Christmas. These Advent songs are full of hope, but are often a bit darker and may lack the overt joy of most Christmas songs. One such song, which you can listen to here, we will be singing each week as a part of our advent liturgy.
That said, I do love singing Christmas songs, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Sure, these songs can bring those warm fuzzy “Christmas cheer” feelings, but it’s much more than that. I wait all year to sing lyrics like “Peace on Earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” These songs contain beautiful melodies and rich lyrics that articulate gospel truths spanning far beyond the 12 short days of Christmas. It may stretch the boundaries of our liturgical calendar, but… here goes… I don’t think it’s wrong to sing Christmas songs during Advent. There, I said it. I think singing lyrics about the birth of our savior and the joy that brings (even while we are still waiting for that joy to be realized) can give us a taste Christmas and fuel our longing all the more.
So, this Advent season at City Pres we will be singing primarily advent songs, but with some Christmas songs sprinkled in as well. To be clear, this is not to satisfy our superficial sentimentality, but to remind us that even as we still wait in desperate longing for Christ’s return, Jesus is king right now and the victory has already been won.
~ Brian Whippo