I used to refuse to sing Christmas carols during Advent. I used to say things like, “We are Christians who celebrate the Christian year! We are in Advent waiting for the coming of the baby. We can’t just jump to Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas begin with the birth of Christ! That’s when we sing Christmas songs!” I’ve relaxed my stance quite a bit. For one thing, the United Methodist Hymnal does not help weary preachers with the Advent struggle! There are all of the wonderful Christmas Carols and Advent just is kind of pitiful. So I always had to figure out how to “ramp up” to Christmas with the two well known Advent hymns “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” the lesser known but acceptable “Lo, How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming,” and “Lift Up Ye Heads” which usually sounded dreadful in most of the churches I served. Michael W. Smith’s “Emmanuel, Emmanuel” became available once “The Faith We Sing” was published which helped spread out the Advent vs. Christmas agony but as a UM pastor the scene and struggle has changed enough that the angst holds through the years. Because just as a new pastor thinks “maybe it will be different with this church.” The church thinks “maybe it will be different with this pastor.” Of course, that usually applies to things other than this topic as well.
After consideration of the changing nature of schools, of folks who don’t come to church so much any more, and of some pastors I respect, I don’t care so much about the Advent hymns vs. the Christmas carols anymore. What I do care a whole lot about is that when someone who hasn’t been in church for awhile does decide to come to church during Advent or what may be for her or him “Christmas time,” there’s music that sounds familiar. I don’t know anyone under the age of 48 who does not at least recognize “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing” as that angel song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” They hear Christian Christmas songs on the radio mixed in with Rudolph and Frosty and Jingle Bells because someone in Nashville or Hollywood thought they could make money from it. So be it. But if they wander in, looking for a place to belong during the season that the “gurus” say is the number one time the “nones” and “dones” look if they are going to look, then maybe we should have at least one song they recognize when they are here.
So thank you Linus. You have spoken to so many more than Charlie Brown. Thank you Charles Schultz. You continue to touch me. I love the Peanuts Gang. Charlie Brown was my first favorite but he wasn’t my last favorite. Thank you Mendelssohn for a tune that is so beautiful that angels must sing it. Thank you Charles Wesley for writing songs of faith that must be sung with heads back and mouths open wide. “Glory to the newborn king!”