This is the time of year when many Episcopal clergy start reminding anyone who will listen how important it is to observe Advent. It normally sounds something like this: “Wait, it’s Advent. Make sure you experience the beauty of Advent before you rush into Christmas. It’s time to prepare for the birth of our Savior and no, we will not sing Joy to the World on Advent 3.” As an Episcopal priest, I participate in this song and dance every year. I preach about Advent themes. I scour the hymnal for Advent hymns that aren’t impossible to sing. I am married to another priest, so we even feel guilty decorating our home too soon.
There is a group in the church world that is referred to as the “Advent police.” They tend to ascend their Advent soap box at this time every year because they dread the “Christmas creep.” The Advent police are normally Episcopalians, Lutherans or maybe Roman Catholics. They are the people who fan themselves dramatically when they see a church with a Christmas tree up before the 4th Sunday of Advent. They quiver a little when they hear Christmas carols, even if it’s just coming out of someone’s car radio as they drive by the church on December 15th. The thing is, there is nothing that I have found in our prayer book stating we can’t have Christmas carols or decorations until after the 4th Sunday of Advent. However, it has become an unwritten rule and I confess—I am a little scared of the Advent police.
I understand it to an extent. There are important messages in Advent that we miss when we rush to the nativity scene to greet the baby Jesus and the Heavenly Host. Advent is a critical time of preparation. It’s a countercultural season calling us to slow down as the world moves around us in a frenzy. That’s all important. But this my friends is 2020. We are done with preparation. We did that in what seemed like a never- ending Lent. In fact, I am not sure it ever ended. We did that when we bought toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and canned food. We prepared. It’s been 8 months of preparation, anticipation, exhaustion, frustration, fear, and mourning. I’m done with seasons that want me to prepare, at least for now.
Normally my husband and I don’t allow Christmas decorations in our home until December 6th,, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Not this year. My husband has been playing Christmas carols on his guitar for a month already and I am okay with that. We decorated the day after Thanksgiving and I felt no guilt. We will be more relaxed at church as well. Now, we won’t sing Christmas carols because congregational singing is safe, but we will hear music with hints of Christmas. Members of our choir will visit those who are homebound to sing carols while spaced out safely. We even put a candy cane in our Advent boxes for children! Why? Because we need a little cheer.
So watch your Christmas movies, attend outdoor light shows, wear your Christmas jewelry, listen to gobs of Christmas music. Let’s make the most of this Christmas cheer. Spread it through the month and into January. Spread it to all whom you know and some who you don’t. And if I go missing shortly after this article comes out, it’s probably because the Advent police have me. Send help and maybe even additional hot cocoa and twinkling lights to decorate my house.
How are you observing (or not observing) Advent this year?