We've been discussing how the church should respond to the shopping season for a couple of days. Now, thanks to the Rev. John Ohmer, we turn our attention to question of how the church should observe (dare we say celebrate?) Advent. Ohmer, of the Falls Church in the Diocese of Virginia says that once upon a time, he was what he calls an Advent Purist, by which he means someone who observed Advent as a "mini-Lent".
Advent purists (as I used to be) steadfastly refuse to put up Christmas decorations at home during most of December, roll their eyes at Christmas music being played at the malls, and refuse to allow the congregation to sing anything from the "Christmas" section of the hymnal until after December 24.
But Ohmer began to re-examine this attitude because, simply put, it drained the anticipation of Christ's coming of any semblance of joy. He writes:
It strikes me as dowdy...frumpy...hopelessly out of touch with the people who are in our pews Sunday after Sunday to be crossing our arms and refusing to hear those wonderful stories leading up to the first Christmas: the stories about Elizabeth's and Mary's becoming pregnant, Joseph's doubts, and the journey to Bethlehem, to name three.
It strikes me as haughty to complain about hearing Christmas music before December 25, and only allow ourselves to pull these remarkable, powerful hymns out of deep storage at the exact time when most of our supposedly less-enlightened congregation is sick to death of them, because they've been hearing them everywhere else since Halloween.
When we insist on a strict observation of Advent, we are the only people -- as Christians - who are NOT talking about Christmas and singing "Christmas" hymns* at the exact time when we have the culture's fullest attention. Combine that with the often-accompanying self-righteous attitude of "oh come on, it's not Christmas yet!" and we come across as little more than dour, frowning, spoil-sports. And that is, at the very least, bad evangelism.
What sort of themes, values and states of mind and spirit do you try to cultivate during Advent?