By Joel A. Hess –
Every December, besides Christmas trees and carolers, we can expect a couple other accoutrements of the holiday season. First, someone will freak out over Starbucks cups and store greeters who exchange the word “Christmas” with “holiday.” Second, pastors will moan loudly and publicly about the fact that it isn’t officially Christmas yet. It’s advent!
I used to be one of those fellas. It’s what you do when you come out of seminary and ya got some stuff ya just learned, and now you’re going to fix the world. At my first call, I encouraged my flock to wait on decorating for Christmas. I felt like the Grinch stuffing the tree up the chimney in front of cute little Cindy Lou Who. I banned Christmas carols until Christmas. I even suggested that we should not serve desserts for the Advent meals in order to create a more penitential tone. Like the Dutch boy sticking his finger in the Dike to save the city, I did my best to keep the Christmas flood from drowning my little Advent village.
I taught and still do teach the healthy benefit of enjoying advent before Christmas. Just like speaking some words before the Lord’s Supper, it is good to prepare ourselves for such a wonderful feast as the celebration of the incarnation. Of course, I also made sure to regularly remind my people that Advent’s focus isn’t Christmas but the second advent, Christ’s coming again in glory and the consummation! I pointed to the practice of the early church, thinking people would be overwhelmed by the data.
Of course, my fantasy of keeping Christmas out of Advent also entailed an actual Christmas season from December 25 to epiphany! “We’ll have Christmas every day!” I encouraged my people.
Well, I created our little microcosm for a couple of years. Meanwhile, while we celebrated Advent, we were surrounded by Christmas. The carols poured out of every radio station. Lights went up all around us. Peanuts Christmas special played over and over on our TVs.
My enthusiasm to turn back the tide waned over the years. Christmas slowly seeped into my own Advent preparations. Heck, by the time Christmas came around, I was tired of Christmas carols as well.
While I do thing the Church’s intentions of creating an Advent season were good, it’s certainly not necessary. Is it wrong to celebrate Christmas for a whole month? The whole world stops and talks about Jesus, whether they believe in Him or not. In response to this, grouchy Christians snub their noses and complain about people decorating their houses too early! As Paul concluded in his letter to the Philippians regarding those who talked about Jesus with wrong intentions, “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
Sure, many people celebrate a Christless Christmas, but no matter how hard the culture tries, the shadow of Jesus hangs over this whole party. What a great opportunity to talk about real hope when the shallow hope the world sells falls short!
So, put up your Christmas tree anytime ya feel like! Blast those carols in the middle of June for all I care. Throw a Christmas party in November. Interrupt your prayer and fasting with a big ol’ piece of roast beast. What can possibly be the problem with celebrating Christmas too early? It’s about God’s love for his fallen, grouchy, cantankerous creation. It’s about the Gospel! When is that ever a seasonal thing?
After all, Advent’s focus on Christ’s second coming is completely meaningless without the historical fact of His first! Merry Christmas!
–Written while enjoying a glass of Grand Marnier on the rocks and listening to Fairytale of New York by the Pogues.