In Praise of Christmas Music During Advent



Anglicans love to remind less liturgically oriented Christians that early December marks the beginning of Advent, not Christmas season. Thus, the very claim of a war on Christmas is a misnomer. The true season under siege by the retailers and Christians of questionable taste is Advent. Blame it on the zeal of a convert, but I remember my early attempts to keep my Advent season pure from the taint of Christmas music. I was one of those wearisome Christians who used to say, “We are supposed to be getting for Christmas! Jesus is not here yet, can’t we wait until the actual 12 days of Christmas to celebrate the birth of the Messiah?”

Strangely enough, I do not remember critiquing my fellow Christians for singing about the crucifixion outside of Good Friday nor do I recall limiting the celebration of the resurrection to Easter. But I digress.

The liturgical calendar betrays its own impatience with the turning of the seasons. The last reading before Advent contains the following:

  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:43–44)”

To these ears at least, it seems that even now the church is beginning to remind us of the need to be ready for the Second Advent. It is preparing us for the shift in mentality that accompanies the turning of the seasons. Those who have prayed the daily office will recognize this subtle turn during the weeks leading up to Advent. Our seasons are not sacrosanct. The season of Advent (as does Lent and Pentecost) betrays its own haste. For example, the third week of Advent is known as Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday. On this Sunday,  we light the pink candle to remind us that the mini-penitential season of Advent is almost over. Jesus is nearly here!

The reason for our liturgical impatience is quite simple: in the midst of the mourning, repentance, and watchfulness of Advent, the Christian finds himself or herself assaulted by joy. While we ready ourselves for the Second coming of Christ, we cannot block out the reality that he has already come and set our hearts aflame. As we prepare to celebrate his birth, we cannot forget that we are the long-sought prodigals who have returned not to condemnation, but a feast! Put differently, the Eucharist spans the seasons and tells us the entire story of Christ over and over such that each part of the story touches upon the whole and we are lost in wonder as we encounter our creator and redeemer, the one not ashamed to call us brother, sister, or friend (Her 2:11).

It is just this assault of joy that marks the Christian life from beginning to end. We are always in wonder whether it be  the glory of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Good Friday, Easter, the Ascension, or Pentecost. The church gives order to this celebration, but she is no taskmaster. Therefore Christians, sing away.

Published by Dr. Esau McCaulley

Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. His research and writing focuses on Pauline theology and the intersection of race, Christian identity, and the pursuit of social justice. He is also a priest in the Anglican Church in North America where he serves as Provincial Director for Leadership Development, which involves oversight of the recruitment and formation of clergy and lay leaders. He is one of the creators of Call and Response ministries, an organization committed to hosting conferences and creating resources for Black and Multi-Ethnic churches.

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