Christian history gives us reason to see Advent and Christmas as coexistent, not separate.
“Don’t rush Christmas,” a seminary professor once told me sternly.
Divinity school faculty often press pastors-in-training to hold off on Christmas celebrations until the eve of the big day, relying on a handful of Advent songs to get through the bulk of December and leaving tree-trimming for the very end of December. High churchgoers, from Anglicans to Presbyterians, cringe when the local mall blasts Bing Crosby the day after Halloween. “Advent is a season, too, distinct from Christmas,” we crow. “Must our culture hurry everything?”
The season of Advent marks a time of holy longing and anticipation. It opens space for sitting with the stories of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist, of Mary, Joseph, the angel Gabriel, and the long journey to Bethlehem. Its liturgical color, purple, is the same as Lent and links the two seasons together as similar spaces in which God’s people mourn the brokenness of the world and also participate in the sacred hope that Christ has come and will come again. To celebrate Advent is to make space for vitally important Christian practices: stillness, silence, and longing.
Yet here’s the rub—cultural Christmas starts early. As in, early early. Our local Costco had artificial Christmas trees on sale by mid-October this year. Schools and churches and community centers begin offering Christmas programs, concerts, and events before Thanksgiving turkeys have cooled. If the church holds off on the celebration of Christmas until December 24, we risk ending up so world-weary from cultural Christmas that we never properly celebrate the holier elements of the season.
The more persuasive argument, however, is that the theological practices of …