We all know how it goes. The pastor or the musicians want to celebrate a full Advent and hold off all Christmas music until Christmas Eve. Or the pastor and the musicians disagree on this: one wanting Advent only; the other wanting at least a mixture. The congregation wants to start singing Christmas hymns as soon as possible because, in our culture, no matter what the liturgical calendar says, we all know that we would get only one or two Sundays to sing these favorites; and that's not enough.
It's enough to make everyone mad. And it never feels good to be mad at Christmas.
So with thanks to one of our predecessors, Hoyt Hickman, we're suggesting a model for another way.
The gospel readings in the lectionary every year begin to turn toward judgment and the second coming of Christ by the second to last Sunday of November. These are strong Advent themes. Why not consider the possibility of singing Advent hymns for these two weeks?
The gospel lessons in the lectionary every year begin to turn toward the events leading directly to the birth of Jesus by the Third Sunday of Advent. Why not begin to introduce Christmas hymns and other Christmas music on this Sunday?
Let's be clear. We're not advocating changing the liturgical calendar. That's a worldwide Christian norm that should not be subject to the cultural practices of the United States. And for United Methodists, that kind of change would have to be approved by General Conference. So we're not talking about changing the calendar or even changing when you start using an Advent wreath or changing the colors in your sanctuary from green to purple or blue. Advent begins when Advent begins. Advent remains four weeks. Christmas begins when Christmas begins — on Christmas Day; or practically, for many of us, with a service of Holy Communion on Christmas Eve.
The result of our proposal? The congregation experiences four whole weeks of Advent hymnody and music and three or more weeks of Christmas and Christmastide hymnody. Given vacation schedules around the end of the year, this means that the congregation will have experienced a full Advent (musically at least) and a full Christmastide. The fullness and integrity of the celebrations of each is honored. The lectionary is followed and embodied musically. Maybe everybody wins?
Or at least maybe more of us who plan and lead worship can experience some of the "heavenly peace" we sing about this time of year.