Advent or Christmas?

I recently went to our son’s church, which had a very nice Christmas program. It was quite contemporary, so those who like only traditional programs would not like it, but I did enjoy it. I could critique this or that, but that would detract from my general view that it was well-done.

However, it was only 4 Advent. What is lost by starting Christmas celebrations the first of December and not doing the Advent countdown? Again, I am not criticizing that church in particular, for it was sending out a group on missions and so would not have significant parts of its congregation for the next 10 days or two weeks. But it is not just that group that has no sensitivity to Advent. It seems to me that several things go missing.

1. One loses the sense of anticipation. Rather than getting the sense of promises fulfilled and waiting ended when one gets to Christmas, one has been celebrating Christmas for weeks and it is difficult to feel any sense of fulfillment on Christmas day.

2. One loses the parallel to the Parousia. Advent parallels the waiting for the fist advent of Jesus to the waiting for his second advent. That, of course, is entirely missing. The king has come, but we are waiting for the coming king. There is an already, a fulfillment, but also a not yet, a waiting. That is definitely lost.

3. Of course, much of the music, such as “O Come, O Come, Emanuel” is really not Christmas music, but Advent music. And so some of the music does not fit, or else is sung at the wrong time.

4. The sense of a Christmas season is often lost. There are 12 days of Christmas to celebrate if one has celebrated the weeks of Advent beforehand. But if one has been more or less celebrating Christmas for weeks, then on Boxing Day it is indeed all over. One is worn out. One does not want to spend 12 days exploring the meaning of the birth of Jesus.

Obviously, it is no sin to miss Advent. It is a development of the church. But it is a loss. It did develop for a reason, and, when embraced, it adds meaning and builds anticipation for the return of Jesus. It is sad when this is lose, especially when lost by groups that do believe in the Parousia.

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About Peter H. Davids

I am Director of Clergy Formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology, and a Catholic priest (and former Episcopal priest for 34 years). I am also a husband, father, and grandfather.
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