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so why no christmas songs yet?

December 13, 2011

This Sunday someone asked me , “Why aren’t we singing Christmas carols in church right now?” That’s a great question. We are three Sundays into Advent and have yet to sing a single Christmas carol. And this is on purpose.

At Grace, we are worshiping according to the ancient pattern of Advent first, Christmas second. Notice that Advent and Christmas are not the same thing. They are two distinct seasons. Advent is the four-week period immediately preceding Christmas Day. Christmas begins on Christmas Day and lasts until January 6 (Epiphany).

Advent is all about waiting and yearning. It’s a time to recognize areas of our lives where we are not presently experiencing fulness. So, during Advent, we sing songs of longing like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”. These are all sung from the context of our present lack. Advent is a time where we sit, at times uncomfortably, in the midst of our unfulfilled longings and unmet expectations. In our worship, we are trying to learn the very important skill of learning to wait on God. Jess even wrote a new antiphon for this Advent, “In the desert, Lord, let our cry come to you.” Crying out to the Lord in the desert is what Advent is all about.

Of course, this can seem very strange and out of step. It seems like “Christmas Season” starts earlier and earlier every year. It even feels that some retailers start playing “Santa Baby” the day after Halloween. I think that’s because, by and large, our culture doesn’t know how to wait. We don’t have a real category for how to deal with unfulfilled desires or broken dreams. We all want and expect comprehensive fulness right now.

But the reality is, God doesn’t promise us that kind of life in the present age. Even as people who are connected to Jesus and the power of his resurrection, we are still looking forward to a day when God will wipe away our tears. This means we should expect some tears now. So we all desperately need to learn how to live faithful lives in the midst of our present longings and groanings. That’s one of the reasons why celebrating Advent is a good idea. It helps us build and exercise this much-needed muscle.

We have to keep in mind, however, that to be a Christian means that unfulfilled desires don’t get the last word. Advent leads to Christmas. For this reason, we also need to learn how to celebrate. So, the Christmas Carols are coming. We’ll be singing “Joy to the World” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, and many others. But we’ll all have to wait just a little bit longer.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 15, 2011 11:46 am

    This is a great post. The same question was asked to me in my church. I would say though that (Psalm 13 is a good example) we need to learn how to praise in the midst of our longing. For that reason I see Joy to the World as an appropriate Advent song as it’s language tends toward the now and not yet dilemma that is present the Advent season. But I may be splitting hairs a bit on this one.

    • John permalink*
      December 15, 2011 1:55 pm

      That’s a good question. I think as long as the general principles are there, we can pick individual songs as we see fit. I agree about the “praise in the midst of our longing”. Longing doesn’t mean lack of hope (or even lack of joy). One of the ways that we try to work in the “longing/lament with joy/praise/hope” mojo is to have a general movement through the entirety of our service. For Advent, we have more of of the “longing” songs and liturgy in the first half of the service. Towards the end of the service, we are generally pushing in the direction of hope. This is also very easy to do as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper at the end of each service. So even though we may be emphasizing the “desert” experience of this present age, by the end of the service we are sitting at a table in the desert. God still provides for us even in the midst of the difficulties of discipleship.
      Take care,


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