Commonplace Holiness Holiness woven into the fabric of life...

'Tis the Season for Grumpy Preachers

Did you ever notice how many grumpy Advent & Christmas preachers there are? All the world around us is calling us to celebrate: the music, the decorations, the reminders of X shopping days till Christmas.

And, Christian preachers are out of step with it. We see crass materialism. We see Advent displaced by the decorations, the green and red, and by all the Christmas music - a reminder to us of our own cultural irrelevance. One of the women in a church I served long ago said to me: "Well, I bought an Advent wreath. We needed a new one. But, it's all wrong. It's purple. Can you imagine? Purple for advent!" After all, we'd already had the traditional Hanging of the Greens, and it hardly seemed to fit.

Some strict Christian groups might object that this is historically a pagan celebration, to which Christians laid claim. We don't know when Jesus was born, really, and the best historical theories do not accord with the wintertime. "In the Bleak Midwinter" may be a pretty song, but it is not an accurate picture of the circumstances of Christ's birth.

So, while all the world is calling out: "Celebrate. Spend! It's the most wonderful time of the year!" we find ourselves saying: "Bah! Humbug!"

The issue came to a head for me several years ago. For some unremembered reason, I took some vacation time in the latter part of November. We went to visit Robin's home church on that Sunday. It a was the first Sunday in Advent. The preacher's theme for the message was: No Room at the Inn. He talked about how the world had no room for Jesus when he was to be born, and how the world had no room for him now. He talked about how the celebration of Christ's birth had become obscured by commercialism. And so forth.

And, I groaned inwardly. My first reaction was: "Gee, it's only the first week in Advent. Give me a break. You can work up to this."

And, then I asked myself: "Do I ever sound like this?" And, as I thought about it, I could hear the faint echo of my own voice saying these very same things, year after year.

And, that was when I decided to stop being a grumpy Advent/Christmas preacher. For one thing, I came to feel that there was some sort of ancient wisdom in getting together in the coldest season of the year, when even the days themselves are short, and having a celebration. Outwardly it is not "the most wonderful time of the year" — but it can be if we choose for it to be. I'm glad that there's a time when families are supposed to gather and celebrate and exchange gifts — otherwise, I fear, we never would. Celebration in the winter is the assertion of life in the midst of what looks to be dead all around us.

And let us remember: we really do have something to celebrate! Christ has come.

“The earth has grown old with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young,
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair
And its soul full of music breaks the air,
When the song of angels is sung."

— Phillips Brooks (1835-93)

Powered by Disqus

blog comments powered by Disqus