Ah, that old timeless debate. Is it appropriate to sing Christmas carols before Christmas or do we have to stick with the Advent hymns? Well consider this riddle solved. You can now purchase lyrics to four Advent carol texts that can be sung to familiar, beloved Christmas tunes everyone enjoys singing. These downloadable hymn-carols can be yours for the low price of $9.95 each, or for the discount price of $29.95 you can get all four. You can get yours by clicking on: Order Here
Now don’t get me wrong. I know God can and does work through all kinds of means. Chap Clark tells a story about a man he met who became a Christian because of that guy that holds up the John 3:16 sign in the stands behind the goalpost at football games. And how many of us have laughed at that guy and his sign? So I have no doubt that God can work in our hearts through these new lyrics to the old carols.
But lately, I’ve been wondering if we (God’s family) have simply forgotten how to ask the right questions. What good is a good answer if it answers the wrong question?
I don’t know about you, but for me, Advent is a very mixed bag. The incarnation represents one of the most staggering truths of our faith. In the midst of this messy, miraculous story of God becoming human, there is this prophetic mystery that just keeps drawing me in deeper and deeper.
But truth be told, at the end of the Advent, I almost always find myself feeling like I missed it. I feel like most of the time, this amazing moment in our story as the people of God, gets completely overlooked amidst the other story of stress, shopping, parties, gifts, decorating, Christmas cards, more shopping, bills, debt, did I mention stress? At the end of it all, I usually feel like I just missed it. As a pastor, I feel like it’s nearly impossible to get people (including myself) to slow down, step out of the story being told at the mall, and into the story being told in the manger. No question - I have a love / hate relationship with the whole Christmas season.
So here’s where I just have to be honest. I just don’t think that the missing piece is lyrics that allow me to sing carols before Christmas. From my perspective, what’s missing is the church finding her prophetic voice, going out and engaging our culture and telling a different kind of story. In fact, living a different kind of story. A better story. The real story. Not the story unfolding at the mall. I don’t care for one second if the greeter at Walmart says Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. The advent story isn’t Walmart’s story. It’s our story. And it’s our job to tell it. And to live it.
THAT is the question I want to ask: How can I tell the better story this Advent so that my neighbor catches a glimpse of the Kingdom (in all it’s upside down values) breaking into the world?
Seriously, I’m not knocking what I’m sure are very good, theologically rich re-written lyrics to some of my favorite old carols. I’m just imagining the look that would pop up on my neighbors face if I finally got him to come to church with me for the first time and he heard a tune that he swears is Away in a Manger, but the words make no sense to him at all.
I just have to ask, “Is that what will help us tell a better story?” If it helps you, then great. If this addresses questions that your congregation is asking, fine. Good luck with that.
But for me the last few years, my celebration of Advent has been shaped and energized by a different set of questions:
- What if we challenged each other to make Advent all about Jesus. (no, really, ALL about Jesus.)
- What if we challenged each other to spend less on stuff we don’t really need?
- What if we learned how to give better gifts that mirrored the way Jesus gave himself to us? (gifts of relationship, time, service, things made by hand, etc).
- And what if we took the difference and used it to change the world, just like that original Christmas did?
- What if we learn to tell a better story by the way we LIVE the story?
- What does God think of the fact that Americans will spend billions on Christmas gifts and it would take less than 10% of that to eliminate (as in, do away with forever) the water crisis across the entire planet?
- What if we celebrated Jesus’ birthday by doing something about that? (Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me...)
That is the kind of worship that is pleasing to God.
That is the kind of song worth singing.
That’s the kind of story worth telling.
And I have a growing suspicion, its the kind of story my neighbor might be interested in hearing.
Listen, I’d love to share more of the meaningful questions that are grabbing my heart, but I’ve got to go shopping for some large, pillar Advent candles. The worship committee nearly had a heart attack over the skinny ones I bought them last year.
PS. If you want a boatload of resources on how to re-think your Advent Celebration outside of your worship services, check out www.adventconspiracy.org . These ideas and themes have had an unbelievable impact on the Advent worship experience in our congregation.
Scott Keeble is a pastor of a multi-site church in Champaign, Illinois. He is also on the planning team for the Moving Back Into our Neighborhoods regional gathering for PGF and he double dog dares you to bring a team of leaders from your church to that event on March 5th and 6th.