Monday, November 15, 2010

Advent and Christmas practices

Two more Sundays to Advent 1. In anticipation of this time of anticipation, I wanted to get some ideas about singing during the Advent season.

Advent and Christmas have been high-jacked by consumer culture. The shops are already being transformed into Christmas shopping Meccas, the shoppers are receiving leaflets in the mail advertising Black Friday, and the children are being bombarded with toy advertisements during Dora the Explorer and the Backyardigans. Once the shopping commences, the shoppers are enveloped with Christmas songs, 'I'll be home for Christmas', 'I'm dreaming of a White Christmas', even 'Joy to the World'.

The songs are heard and sung throughout what we Christians call Advent. And when Christmas day comes, the anticipation is over! Presents are given and received, food is consumed en masse, and the people rejoice. Not for Jesus sake, but for the presents' sake. 'We have what we want, now its over.' A great sigh of 'Now what?' can be heard across the land. Trees are taken down, decorations boxed up, and Christmas cds are thrown back in the drawer to be seen again in 11 months.

My question is this: In your Christian community, is Christmas day the culmination or the beginning? Does the anticipation that builds over Advent end on Christmas day afternoon with a great sigh of 'Now what?' It seems a great disappointment occurs on Christmas day afternoon when we let the consumer culture take over our lives. Could there be another way? Could Christmas BEGIN on Christmas day? Or is it doomed to be the END of the anticipation of Advent?

One way Christian communities have celebrated Advent and Christmas is by singing. How we sing and what we sing reflects how we anticipate Christmas and what Christmas day means. For Christians, Christmas day is not just a culmination of the Advent season, but a beginning of the Christmas season. Christmas day becomes the beginning of a celebration that lasts through January!

In short: Do you sing Christmas carols during Advent, or do you emphasize the anticipation of Advent by abstaining from singing Christmas carols until Christmas day? Furthermore, are the Christmas carols only for Christmas day and the Sunday following, or do they continue in celebration through January?



Eric + said...

Here is our worship schedule for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany:

1st Sunday of Advent = Advent Lessons and Carols. The lessons begin with the fall and end with the Benedictus and the Magnificat. All the music is traditional advent music collected from Lutheran, Methodist and Episcopal Hymnals.

2nd-3rd Sunday of Advent are typical services of word and table. Not all the music is traditional advent music, but none of it is Christmas music. The music is non-Christmas music organized around an advent theme

4th Sunday of Advent = our choirs Christmas cantata. Despite my constant objection this simply cannot be moved to either Christmas Eve or the Sunday after Christmas

We have full-fledged Christmas services on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Sunday following.

The 2nd Sunday of Christmas (the 1st of the new year) we are trying something new. I am attempting to adapt the Wesley Covenant Service to a full Christmas service shifting the metaphor from "covenant" to "dedication." I realize that has some clear theological implications, but it has much of the same gravity and will allow me to tie it in to Jesus' dedication which is a traditional part of the Christmas narrative and thus we will use all Christmas music for this service as well.

The final service in our cycle will be a concluding service of Epiphany Lessons and Carols. The readings will pick up where the Advent service ended and will walk us through the story ending with Jesus' baptism. The music will either be Christmas or Epiphany hymns.

Hope this is helpful. BTW communion will be included with each service.

BThomas said...

For no theological reason we sing Christmas songs up until Christmas and not afterwards.

Joseph your post is disheartening to me, because where we are (our church), and where we need to be are not the same place. The church I am at has a long history of Christmas productions a "singing Christmas Tree." I have yet to see it, but this production has more fully formed the identity of this church than any other Christmas activity. It is a staple in the community, "it's what we are known for." When I think about that, I hear the words of Jud Wilhite, "When people are talking more about your programming, props or humor
than Jesus after church, you have failed.” I hope that is not the case here, but I do wonder if the reason there is often such a great sense of disappointment, emptiness, and weariness in churches after Christmas is because we have built up or bowed down to the wrong thing in our worship. I know that for this Church, Christmas day has been the culmination and I won't be able to change that anytime soon but maybe, this year, it can be both a culmination and a beginning as we introduce the idea of "advent and epiphany." I know this doesn't really answer your question but your question disturbed me when when I realized we are better known for our singing tree than we are for the presence of the one to whom we sing.

Rich Schmidt said...

We've done it both ways. We've included Christmas songs throughout December/Advent, culminating with our Christmas Eve service, and we've abstained from Christmas songs until the Christmas Eve service and the following Sunday's worship (and maybe beyond, I don't recall).

We haven't decided yet what we'll do this year. But we are definitely building anticipation for what comes after Christmas, because in 2011 we're reading the Bible together as a church, cover to cover, with the Sunday messages being drawn from the passages we've read that week. I know, this has nothing to do with "the Christian calendar," but we are anticipating seeing the Word who became flesh come alive in us as we delve into the fullness of Scripture over the course of this next year.