Last year during Advent I noticed a lot of blog posts, Facebook updates and Twitter tweets lamenting people singing Christmas carols during Advent.
Yes, there are Advent snobs.
But the point is well taken, and one that I've only just recently come to appreciate. Because I didn't grow up in a liturgical tradition I never learned to note or appreciate the distinction between Advent and Christmas. It was all just Christmas to me.
But the distinction is this. Advent is a time of expectation, a season of waiting and anticipation. Christmas is a time of celebration and rejoicing for the gift that is given.
In liturgical time, during Advent Christ isn't yet born, we are looking forward, anticipating, longing for, and waiting for the birth of Immanuel. So an Advent song would be "O Come O Come Emmanuel."
O come, O come, Emmanuel,Advent is a groaning, the time of being in exile and longing for liberation.
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
The trouble is, there's not a ton of popular Advent songs. And Advent lasts for four weeks. So a lot of Christmas carol poaching occurs, pulling in songs celebrating Christ's birth into the Advent season. And if you care about such things, if you are an Advent purist, that's a no-no.
This problem is exacerbated by the fact that many Christians (and the world at large) think that Christmas is only a single day. But as I've written about before, Christmas is a season. There are, as we all know, twelve days of Christmas. Those twelve days--from the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas Day) to Epiphany--are the Christmas season.
But that's not what most people think. Most people think Advent is the Christmas season. But it's not. Advent is Advent and Christmas is Christmas. But in mistakenly thinking that Advent is "the Christmas season" many Christians go ahead and sing Christmas songs early. Because, if you think about it, if Christmas lasts only one day you'd only ever get to sing Christmas carols on one day a year, only on Christmas day. Basically, if you think Christmas is only one day you almost have to sing Christmas carols during Advent if you want to sing "O Holy Night" and "We Three Kings" and "The First Noel" at least a couple of times.
(Suggestion. Why don't we change all Christmas carols to the future tense to make them Advent songs?Does any of this matter? Probably not. Few of us are Advent snobs. But all this does make you wonder about our inability to wait. About the Christian rush to a happy conclusion.
"O holy night, the stars will be shining brightly..."
"Silent night, holy night, all will be calm, all will be bright..."
Terrible idea, I know. Just brainstorming here.)
Advent is sort of like a lament. Advent is being the slave in Egypt, sitting with the experience of exile. Advent is about looking for God and hoping for God in a situation where God's promises are outstanding and yet to be fulfilled.
So I wonder if our rushing through Advent to the celebration of Christmas might have some spiritual consequences, akin to skipping Lent so we can get to Easter. Might Christmas be too triumphalistic without Advent? Much like Easter Sunday without Good Friday?
Waiting for God and enduring the pain of that waiting is a spiritual discipline. Advent is a time to cultivate that discipline. A time to chasten the rush to happy endings in our spiritual lives.
We must learn to wait on God.
We must learn to celebrate Advent.