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An Advent Purist relents

An Advent Purist relents

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?


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Jonathan Chesney

Here is the website for the movement Jon White mentions. I think there is a lot of potential good in their approach and understanding. Check it out; provides an interesting counter-point to parts of this article.

jon white

There is a movement about to extend Advent into November making it, like Lent, a seven week season. Perhaps doing so would allow us some time to faithfully balance our anticipation with the excitement of the American Xmas season. I’ve been reluctant, but that statement about celebrating Christmas right when everyone is ready to be done with it really hit me and I think I need to do some real discernment and reflection around that.

Jon White

Clare Hickman

As with many of the great articles linked to on Episcopal Café, it’s helpful to read the entire piece before responding. As I understand it, Fr. Ohmer is not at all suggesting we should “give in to the culture” and celebrate a premature Christmas, but offering us ways to approach the twin seasons of December (liturgical Advent and secular Christmas) with as much grace as possible.

I appreciate the invitation to loosen my resentment of being surrounded by Christmas, to let go of the need to “shut it all out” as I shop, or drive, or turn on the radio. It’s too much work to block it out. It can’t be done, and it makes me too grumpy. So I’m working on letting my principles bend a little, allowing a little Christmas sparkle in a little earlier, so that I can be more open and joyful in this time.

On the accepting reality front, I think Fr. Ohmer’s point that we start singing carols at the very point that our people are tired of them contains a great deal of truth. It might be regrettable (it certainly is for me), but it’s not something we can change about the culture around us. I think it’s helpful simply to acknowledge that, and not let our resentment of the theft make us extra grumpy and sanctimonious (poor evangelism indeed).

As for what that means for Advent liturgy in my church, I don’t know. I love the Advent hymns, and the evergreen and purple, and the quiet, joyful expectation. I don’t want to jump the gun to “Hark the Herald” (any more than Fr. Ohmer does!). Still, barring the ability to extend Advent into November, I think his suggestion that we look at the texts of both Advent and Christmas hymns, to see which might appropriately be moved forward, is worth looking into.

Paul Woodrum

We tend to forget that we carved our celebration of the Incarnation out of the old Roman saturnalia and the winter solstice of Druid imitative magic. We shouldn’t be too surprised that the old order continues unchanged. But Advent proclaims that a new order is beginning and it is this new reality to which the church should witness, not haughtily nor condescendingly, but by nonconformingly and gently passing on the gift of God’s love.

Brian Kneeland

Let each season happen as it comes. If we sing Christmas carols during Advent then why not Easter songs during Lent? Giving in to the secular society is not what Jesus did – and not what the liturgical year asks us to do. Now – at home we have decorations up – but we pray Advent prayers!

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