We had a wonderful, intense meeting with the Worship Ministry last Sunday (September 28), talking about Advent and Christmas as liturgical seasons and musical touchstones. When I arrived here at OPC, the custom had been in recent years to hold off singing Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve. I continued this practice, largely because I thought it was a good one. However, it has become patently clear that there are a variety of views on this topic. So: we met, everyone got their feelings, thoughts, opinions out on the table in ways that were very, very powerful and gave, I think, powerful testimony to the open nature of listening and respect that should be at the heart of all church conversations. I left the meeting with my eyes, ears, and heart open in ways, I will admit, it had not been before to other ways of seeing this conversation. So: following the meeting, I promised to summarize what I thought the main conversation was about, post it here, and invite feedback. I can claim no ownership for any of the thoughts below except my own, so where I miss the point, please do correct me. I want honest, direct, thoughtful, respectful feedback.
The conversation raised one important clarifying point: there is no issue about the Season of Advent. All are agreed that, prior to the coming of Christmas, there is a need to engage in thoughtful (some would say joyful) preparation as the busy-ness and commercialization of Christmas continues non-stop. The issue, rather, is about the musical selections.
On the one hand, there is the point that the liturgical seasons are reflected in the music we sing (e.g. we don't sing Easter hymns during Lent, or Advent hymns during Lent, etc.). To sing Advent music during Advent is a way of connection with ancient traditions and ancient longings for the Messiah. It is also a prophetic witness to our wider culture that Christmas is a religious feast, not an occasion for sales. It begins on December 25 and lasts twelve whole days. Ecumenically speaking (at least the "higher church" side of things - Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic), we are also making a statement about unity in Christ. We stand in that Christian tradition of being counter-cultural and disciplined by waiting. And in a culture of instant gratification, waiting is an important Christian discipline to nurture. As Lent is for Easter, so Advent ought to be for Christmas. And worship, at the center of our life and witness, ought to reflect this witness.
On the other hand, we are already being bombarded with Christmas secular music everywhere we go in December (and even earlier - I saw Christmas decorations already up at Lowe's the other day). What we really want is to put Jesus back in Christmas. Singing them in the car, or at home? We want to celebrate the birth of Christ with our faith community, singing joyfully together. And waiting until Christmas officially comes is no good. The wider culture has already so bombarded us with red, green, tinsel, and santa hats that, by the time 12/25 finally gets here, we're sick of it. The last thing we want to do is to sing "Away in a Manger." It's no longer joyful; the culture has killed the possibility of joy by then.
As I said, I don't claim to have touched on all of the important points above. So please do give me feedback. What have I missed? What do you think about the conversation? How can we continue the conversation? How do we move forward from this?