Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas hymns before December 24?

Jim Bonewald, Presbyterian minister in Iowa who is also a blogger has posed the question: “When should churches start to sing Christmas hymns?” He’s running an online poll with these choices:
  1. It's ok to sneak in an occasional Christmas hymn or two during the season of advent, just don't make it a regular practice.
  2. Be strict about Advent - no Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve.
  3. Who cares? Dive right in and start singing Christmas hymns on the 1st Sunday of Advent.
  4. What? You mean there is a difference between Advent and Christmas hymns? 
  5. Wait with the Christmas hymns until the third or fourth Sunday of Advent.
The comments section at the bottom of the poll are interesting, in that they represent a cross-section of Christian thought on the subject.

Pastor Bonewald himself comes down on the side of #1. But what I find interesting is that in reviewing his blog, he has a flurry of activity every year connected with Advent. So he takes the season seriously, also also evidenced by this exchange in the comments:
December 1st, 2008 at 9:33 pm
Interesting conversation, but please excuse me for asking the dumb question. What’s the difference between Advent and Christmas songs? Can you give me some examples and explain why they fall into those catagories? I’ve never heard there was a difference!

Personally, I think any song that helps someone feel the love of Christ is a good song, no matter what season. I love listening to the Go Fish version of Little Drummer Boy all year long. It’s a great rocking song that makes me remember God’s sacrificial entry into the world with great awe.

December 1st, 2008 at 9:58 pm
Bonnie, great question….If you take a close look at our blue hymnal, you will notice that the very first section of songs is referred to as “advent,” the next section is then “christmas.”

The advent songs play on themes of advent (coming, waiting, preparing the way) they allude to the hope and promise of the Messiah, but they don’t sing about or celebrate his coming as a reality. The two most prominent and best known advent songs are “O come O come Emmanuel” and “Come Though Long Expected Jesus.”

Christmas songs tell the story of the nativity and birth of Christ and celebrate the reality of his coming. “joy to the world” and “o come all ye faithful” announce the arrival of christ and call us to worship him.
This is a surprisingly clear and traditionalist viewpoint for a co-leader of the postmodern, emergent church group called Presbymergent.

To me, this is one of the starkest examples where the canon of hymns compiled into a hymnal intersect liturgy, if not theology. Familiar hymns serve to put us in the mind of the meaning of a given season in the liturgical calendar, whether All Saints Day, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost or Trinity Sunday. In some ways, the messages of the hymns are more stirring and effective than anything said from the pulpit: hymn singing is a participatory event, the music strengthens the emotional impact, and we repeat the exercise every year using the same message.

So botching the choice (or wording) of Advent or Christmas hymns at best misses a great opportunity to prepare the faithful for the meaning of Christmas and the coming of the Christ child, at a time when the secular world has expressed either hostility to the Christian message or has turned it into the year’s largest marketing push.

To enable the latter, we get Christmas songs (nowadays Christian carols are rare) playing as Muzak in every shopping mall from mid-November through December 24. In other words, the retail world deliberately violates the liturgical calendar by promoting Christmas cheer during (and before) Advent. Because there’s no money to be made, they stop the Christmas message exactly when the 12 days of Christmas begin.

For several years, the local Christian radio station used to run billboards proclaiming “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Advent carols — kept apart from the Christmas message being exploited by secular marketers — are a powerful way of reminding us of this truth by preparing us for the true meaning of Christmas.

Hat tip: Vicar Josh

1 comment:

Vicar Josh Osbun said...

I suppose I should expound upon why I say "absolutely not." Perhaps that will be my project for this weekend.