Bless me, for I have sinned. Through my fault, through my fault, through my own most grievous fault, I have willfully begun listening to Christmas music in Advent, and – God help me – I probably will continue.
Anglicans, among whom I gladly make my home, honestly can be a bit prickly, a bit fastidious at times, myself chief among sinners. Nowhere, it seems, does this tendency rise more prominently to the fore than in Advent – well, in discussions of Advent and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in about equal measure. I’ve lost count of the number of times Facebook Anglicans have reminded me already that THIS. IS. NOT. CHRISTMAS. To which I want to reply, LORD. HAVE. MERCY. or, more truly, GET. A. LIFE. (Enough of the capital letters and one word sentences, already!)
Look, I like Christmas music: Johnny Mathis, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, the Carpenters, Mannheim Steamroller, George Winston, Narada, Windham Hill, and the list goes on. I can’t play all this beautiful music in only twelve days and I find no reason to limit myself. On my Advent playlist you’ll find Advent At Ephesus (glorious), Gregorian Advent (contemplative), some version of Lessons and Carols (wonderfully Anglican), The Gift (Tingstad and Rumble), Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, Narada Christmas, December (George Winston), Miracles (Kenny G.), In Quiet Silence (Society of St. John the Evangelist), and a holiday mix of classic, secular Christmas standards: yes, all this on my Advent playlist. I am expansive; I can live in two calendars simultaneously: Christmas-during-Advent.
And, I put up the Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving: no, not the Advent Tree – the Christmas Tree. It is beautiful and the ornaments represent a lifetime of memories. I want to add that beauty and joy to my life before, during, and after Christmas. I choose to worship the Lord in the holiness of beauty (and yes, this is an intentional misquote) in Christmas-during-Advent.
In Phil Rickman’s novels, Merrily Watkins, vicar of Ledwardine and exorcist of the Diocese of Hereford, doesn’t mind so much when people use Jesus Christ as an expletive. “At least it keeps the name in circulation,” she says. I feel the same about the Christmas-during-Advent season. At least it keeps the name in circulation in an increasingly secular society. Yes, at the malls we may hear I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas ad nauseum, but we also hear Silent Night and Joy to the World, and that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps there is some subliminal evangelism taking place. At the very least, the name of Jesus Christ is kept in circulation in a culture that is too often deaf to it and too rarely utters it. Yes, commercialism can blur our focus on the Story, but it can also take the focus off ourselves and temporarily manifest as generosity, selflessness, and compassion. I suspect that in the Christmas-during-Advent season, many people drop loose change into a Salvation Army kettle who never think about or give to charity during the remainder of the year, and that’s not a bad thing. I wonder if some other world religions have Christmas envy, wishing their faith had made such inroads into secular culture. Do you really know any B’hai carols or Taoist hymns? But I’ll bet many adherents of B’hai or Taoism can sing Christmas carols.
Now, don’t misunderstand my seasonal inclusivity. I love Advent in all its pre-Christmas purity as much as any prickly Anglican; it is, to me, one of the most meaningful seasons in the church year and one of my favorites. I try to enter into it fully and gratefully. I simply refuse to use it as a cudgel to bludgeon my other secular or non-liturgical friends, or even my Anglican brothers and sisters. Several years ago, my family and I began a discipline of Advent fasting. By the fourth week in Advent – trust me on this – you wouldn’t want to come eat at our home, unless you are vegan (Lord, have mercy). But, if you invite me to your home for a Christmas-during-Advent party, I will gladly eat whatever you set in front of me, thanking God for your hospitality and his abundant blessings. You will never know I’m fasting and I will never mention it. I will even (force myself to) enjoy the sumptuous, party fare before returning to hummus and rice cakes. If you ask me, I’ll even bring my guitar and play Christmas music; I’m particularly proud of Christmastime Is Here, from a Charlie Brown Christmas, by Vince Guaraldi – great jazz chords. Why should my observance of Advent sanction scruples that lead to rudeness? You’re eating that during Advent? Sorry, I don’t sing Christmas songs during Advent! Why is your tree already up during Advent? I don’t want to be the Grinch who steals joy because his heart is three sizes too small. I want to be the changed Scrooge who truly keeps Christmas all year, even during Advent.
In church and in my heart, I observe Advent: wreath and candles, lessons, O Antiphons – the works. At the mall, on the street, in my friends’ homes, in my music and in my home, I celebrate Christmas-during-Advent with all the trimmings. I have no trouble doing both. So, please, I beg you, dear purist, prickly Anglican friends: LEAVE. ME. ALONE. to observe Christmas-during-Advent. (This is written with a gentle and loving smile on my face. Receive it in like manner.)
May you have a holy and blessed Advent as we remember the first advent of our Lord in great humility and await his second advent in great glory. Our king and savior now draws near: O, come, let us adore him.
Image: Public Domain