Let’s take a moment and talk Christmas music. Many of my colleagues in ministry are quite adamant that using Christmas music right now during advent is uncouth, inappropriate, or anathema. I understand where they are coming from—we need to spend advent as a season of waiting, we need to prepare ourselves before we welcome the Christ Child, and we need to resist the temptation of the culture to start the Christmas season in October.
All that being said, I think we need Christmas Carols earlier than December 24th. Now, I always cringe when I hear that first Christmas carol in a department story in late October, and I am always tempted to write cranky letters when that inevitably happens. When I hear those tunes so early, I begin to feel that the purpose of the music has nothing to do with the coming holiday, and everything to do with an out of control capitalistic system that wants to turn the holiday into a 4th quarter budget booster. The rule that we live by in our household is that we will start with Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. I do think there is something to this. Though the season of advent is a season of waiting, a season of contemplation, a season of preparation, there is nothing that says this waiting and preparation can’t be done with a good sound track.
There has been a push in recent years by people in church music circles to create better advent music as one response. Our new hymnal does include about 2 dozen more good advent tunes than the last hymnal. And though I use those, you will have also noticed that I started sneaking Christmas music into the bulletin last Sunday. The advent music is improving, but none of those songs stir the memory like those carols of old do. Frankly, I think that is part of what needs to happen when waiting and preparing—stirring memories of years gone by, and the meaning of what is to come.
Another thing that I think is increasingly important is owning our carols and passing them on to the next generation. The reality is that this holiday has been turned into a secular/civic holiday. If we don’t start intentionally teaching the Church Carols to our kids now, they will think that Santa Baby, is what this season is all about. The fact of the matter is, that because the rest of the world starts Christmas after Halloween, we are all Christmased out by the time Christmastide arrives (the days following Christmas and leading up to epiphany). Christmastide is technically when we are supposed to sing these songs, but the reality of the world around us is that we have moved on by then. We need to make sure there is still a place for this music in our sanctuaries, and that it isn’t just as a footnote after December 25th.
I also think there is a social justice element to this as well. Increasingly, this has become a season that sends the, “spend, spend, spend,” message. It has become a season where the message is that if there aren’t keys to a Lexus under the tree, then there is something wrong with you. One of the ways that we can stand witness against the over-commercialization of Christmas is by being that singing voice that calls our attention back to what is truly important—not diamonds or LED TV’s, but the promise of a new creation that comes with that Christ child laid in a manger. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying gift giving is wrong, and I have done my share of shopping this season too! However, there is so much more meaning to be had from God becoming flesh and dwelling among us! The best way we have to combat this over-commercialization is the message that is inherent in Church Carols—an arrow pointing our hearts and minds back toward the coming Christ Child.
While I know I will not be winning over any of the hard core advent enthusiasts here, I think that for the rest of us, there is a deep need for the singing of carols, and especially doing so in church. The world is an increasingly scary place, and nothing brings us the message of hope and the promise of God’s presence in this sometimes dark and scary world, than the powerful music of church carols that strike at the chords deepest in our hearts and remind us that this is a season of hope—even amidst the darkness!