Oh, the music of this season! Yes? Are you already humming? What is YOUR favorite song of this season? Quick...make a note!
Most of us, reading those words above, would start humming Christmas carols, both secular and sacred. Bing Crosby would have us pining for a White Christmas....just like the ones we used to know. Fred Astaire would get us wondering when Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Burl Ives would pull us up out of our chairs to dance with a snowman named Frosty, who came to life because of a magic hat. We would be challenged to "Let it Snow" because "Baby, It's Cold Outside...." And of course, Nat King Cole would bring it home with his renditions of "The Christmas Song" and "O Come All Ye Faithful."
And yet, this Episcopal priest must still remember, and remind, that it is Advent...the time of anticipating the birth of the Messiah....the feast won't come to pass until the 25th of the month. Right. Right?
I confess it, and I cannot deny it...I love Christmas music as much as the next person. As I have gotten older and further away from the harsh purity of the liturgical seasons marked in my seminary, I don't mind so much having the Christmas music play in the background, even though it is Advent and NOT Christmas. Those 12 days don't come until after the Feast of the Nativity...but fighting the Christmas Spirit is like punching water. In the end, the water is still water and all you have to show for the struggle is a wet hand and a sleeve soaked to the elbow.
So, instead of resistance (which serves no one, really...and there are so many more important aspects of following Christ faithfully than to make people who like to decorate, sing and prepare for the holiday early feel bad), I seek balance. For the most part, that balance comes from prayer and finds its expression through music.
Even as I seek to let my inner baritone out in a duet with the inimitable Mr. Cole, I also open my heart and throat to sing with gusto some of the great Advent and Mission hymns from my Church's tradition....
I chant "O Come, Emmanuel," all 8 verses. I give praise to the "Creator of the stars of night." You know why? "Lo, he comes, with clouds descending," because "There's a Voice in the Wilderness Crying." I sing those songs with joy and gusto, and at this point in my life I know them almost as well as the Christmas songs. And I have come to see that singing those songs, each in their season, really, really matters. It matters, most importantly, to our mission as a Church. Advent hymns teach us expectation and they remind us that waiting on God is an active endeavor. Christmas hymns teach us celebration and they remind us that with the birth of Jesus we will never experience God as far off, never, ever again.
So, my brothers and sisters....sing. Sing those hymns with full voice and an overflowing heart in hearty anticipation of the birth of the Savior. And then? Sing! Sing ALL the songs, from the most sacred to those of the highest camp...Sing them with joy and peace in your heart. Sing them in order to savor the taste of nostalgia. Sing them with abandon in the hope that perhaps one day the Church's mission might be fulfilled....to know Christ fully and to make him fully known!
But most of all......