I have long held off on writing an anathema against the Advent Police. Mostly because I know and love so many of them. I’ve kept silent about these well-meaning liturgical lawyers because I love the season of Christmas just as much as the next seminary nerd devout Christian. I love the anticipation, the colors, the music, and the theology.
Also, (and I know the liturgical lawyers might not readily cop to this feeling), Advent is wonderful because it is that rare time of year when we get to feel superior to all of those Christians/people who don’t know what Advent is. They just bumble through December and land at the manger. Ridiculous. When you are a member of the Advent Illuminati, you get to prepare for the coming of Christ AND feel self-righteous around Baptists–what some would call a win-win.
Who are these people that police the season before Christmas? You will know them by their propagation of the Advent Gospel: No Christmas before Christmas. There is a calendar date for putting up your nativity and they want you to darn well stick to it. The Advent Police are the people who turn their noses up at Christmas music being played at the grocery store before Thanksgiving. Or you might spot them balking at their neighbor putting up lights mid-November. The Advent Police have rules, rules, rules about Christmas trees, nutcrackers, and when it’s appropriate to listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. As though Queen Mariah would ever condone such an edict.
The Advent Police love to post things on social media as though they live upstairs in Downtown Abbey:
“Went to T.J. Maxx today. Appalled that ‘Silent Night’ was playing!”
Really? Appalled? This is what appalls you?
They like to remind us that it isn’t Christmas yet (comma idiots).
These days, the Advent Police just make me tired. I am at that point in my life when I measure success in laundry baskets and changed diapers. When the season before Christmas comes, I have a massive list of things to do. Should I do my Christmas tasks begrudgingly? Should I be angry that it has all started “so early?” Would that make everyone feel better? Or is it cool if I play a little “All I Want for Christmas” in the background while I buy stocking stuffers at Target.com?
Look, I realize I’m indulging in a bit of self-righteousness of my own here. Truth is, I’m open to tips for Advent sanctification. But only from a very select group of women. If you happen to be a lady preacher, be married to a preacher yourself, parent two small children, and work two-part time jobs, then I would love your tips for how to appropriately “do Advent” in the comments section below.
[I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I don’t even want to hear from a man this time of year. “Oh! You are a dude with an opinion about how I should be spending Advent? That’s so cute! Please tell me about it while we wrap the 4,562 presents I am responsible for buying!” Dudes, if you have that much law-laying time on your hands, I have some lights that need to be hung. Before Advent, preferably. Want some pink wine in a Christmas solo cup?]
This year the Advent Police are peeing in my Christmas stocking (yes, I know that’s not a real expression) for a whole new reason. They are leaning especially hard into the people who need Christmas the most. People are scared and worried and anxious right now. They need the lights, the hopeful music, the cheery colors, and the generosity. Of course, what they really need, what we all really need, is Jesus. And while I realize the Christmas section at the Walgreens might not be the most religiously appropriate place to start, it might be the most honest.
Because amid Dolly belting out “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” and that weird snow globe where Santa is bowing to Baby Jesus, there is a truthful need for consolation. We are all longing for the thrill of hope, because our weary world needs rejoicing.
Instead of yelling at people about how it isn’t Christmas yet, what if we had something to learn from them? In all the perceived failure to do Advent “right,” what if the Christmas-needy among us are just admitting that they need ‘the reason for the season’ right now?
After all, as much as we want to hold up December 25th as the almighty day when Mary gives birth every year, that is not exactly how this thing works. We are celebrating that God gave us Jesus to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 2:21b). Is it even better if we wait and do it at the right moment? Is that how our faith works? We improve upon it with timing requirements?
To be clear, I love the tradition of the Advent season as much as the next Episcopalian. It is ancient, holy, and incredibly moving. Advent is our precious almost-not-yet-already season in the church. But I refuse to accept it as one more tool for division and judgment in my life. Don’t we have enough of those these days?
“Thus says the Lord, the Sunday after you eat too much turkey shall be the start of my season of waiting. Judge the ones who haven’t heard,” is not buried in the Gospel of Matthew. But you know what is in there? We will know not the day nor the time when the Lord shall return, therefore “you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24:44).
When Jesus does come back, there will be no Advent to prepare. We will have no time to police anyone. He will not wonder which Christians followed the appropriate calendar and which ones listened to “Joy to the World” in August–or, I’m hoping, which ones were sanctimoniously indignant in either direction.
All this is to say, if you find Jesus in the Advent season, then haul out your sarum blue and keep that tree hidden until December. But if you need to haul out some holly today, for the little it is worth, you have my/our blessing. Christmas is that annual moment when we proclaim our need for healing, salvation, hope, and Something Greater than ourselves. And right now is as good a time as any.