You have heard of the supposed War on Christmas. But the real war is not about whether retailers use the word Christmas during December or not. In fact, it is not even the Christmas season until Christmas day anyway.
The real war is happening in many American churches. It’s not a war on Christmas, its a war on Advent, and I want to enlist you on the Advent side.
We need an Advent army that fights not with boycotts or browbeating, but with an invitation to a quieter, older path.
Here’s my recruiting pitch.
For many centuries, Advent was a season of spiritual preparation before the Feast of Christmas. It began four Sundays before Christmas.
Contrary to the practice of so-called Advent in many churches, it wasn’t focused on the story of the birth of Christ and the singing of carols. That’s for the Christmas season.
Instead, Advent is a time of reflection, penitence, and preparation, not of celebration.
Human nature being what it is, we ended up skimming the icing off of the cake before the birthday party even started. We like feasts, but we don’t like fasts. Many churches and Christians stopped observing the seasons, except for the feasts and celebrations (Easter and Christmas).
(To learn more about the Church calendar and the liturgical year, click here.)
In other words, we dropped the preparation, penitence and reflection part and went straight for the carols, presents, and eggnog.
Some are trying to restore Advent but they’re doing it wrong.
If you go to Christian bookstores for Advent resources or look for Advent playlists, you will quickly see that Advent devotionals are about Christmas. Again, they are skipping the actual themes of Advent.
The themes of Advent are from the Old Testament prophecies and the ministry of John the Baptist. They take us on a journey to a time before the first coming of Christ. Like the ministry of John the Baptist, they invite us to repent, and “prepare the way of the Lord.”
Historic Advent devotion focuses on the story of the People of God leading up to the birth of Christ. That way, when Christmas arrives, we have the whole story in mind. The week before Christmas, they focus on the Annunciation to Mary. Perfect timing.
(To learn more about the themes of Advent, click here.)
So, for example, in a traditional observance of Advent, we don’t sing Christmas carols until Christmas actually arrives after sunset on Christmas Eve. Instead, we sing Advent hymns and songs such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
And then Christmas arrives. But it isn’t just one day. It’s Twelve Days. It saddens me that so many Christians sing Christmas songs for so long before Christmas, then they say they’re tired of Christmas by Christmas! Most can’t imagine eleven more days.
The real war is inside of our churches and homes.
We have obliterated the season of preparation, prematurely begun and then over-extended the feasting, and forgotten our own heritage. No wonder there is so much depression and guilt associated with that day.
So restoring Advent isn’t about “traditional” rules. It isn’t about being “right” or “correct.” Restoring Advent is about healing the guilt that so many people associate with the feasting of Christmas. It’s about being a healing presence in a shame-based culture. It’s about enjoying the Twelve Days with gusto rather than boredom.
This year, why not try it?
Advent starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Why not put off the Christmas music and decorating at least until a couple of weeks before Christmas?
Instead, focus on the message of the Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist. Purposely avoid Christmas foods and celebration (when you can without being anti-social). Let it be a quiet, reflective time in the midst of so much busyness and bustle.
See what happens. Maybe you’ll find that sometimes the wisdom of the past brings healing to our frantic, modern lives.
(Want to learn more about Advent? Click here to read the Rookie Anglican Guide to Advent.)
Originally published 2015-11-09. Updated 2018-12-05.
Greg is the founder of Anglican Compass (previously known as Anglican Pastor). He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.