When it comes to Advent, I've been a bit of a purist.
Much to the chagrin of the entire congregation, I've always saved our Christmas carols until Christmas Eve and the Sunday or two after. In the meantime, I have chosen a couple lesser-known carols for Advent, and a lot of Advent hymns (as I've mentioned, the old E&R hymnal has a great selection). Of course, I've heard the occasional question as to why we don't sing the more familiar songs during the entire month of December.
I've always regarded that question as a good teaching moment. Advent is Not Yet. Jesus hasn't been born yet during this season. Instead, we anticipate Christmas. So it doesn't make much sense to sing all the songs mentioning Jesus in the manger when Jesus isn't in the manger yet.
The main counter-argument that I've heard is that Christ is always with us, so why keep him out of the manger? As such, some pastors I know don't see any problem with peppering Advent with a few carols.
That, and this is the only time of year people get to, even expect to, sing them.
Well, I've been able to justify some peppering of my own. In the past, the very last hymn that we've sung on the Fourth Sunday of Advent has always been "O Come All Ye Faithful." My reasoning is that this carol serves as the invitation to Christmas Eve worship: "O come all ye faithful to our celebration of Christ's birth." If I'm being totally honest, it's also a gesture to those who wish for more carols.
When I first conceived this entry, I was going to write about how the last hymn will be a carol every Sunday. I was going to write about how the other two will still be Advent hymns, and that every Sunday of the season would be a mini-fulfillment of Christ's birth, a service of anticipation that ends in a small celebration of what we inevitably celebrate in more grand fashion on December 24th and 25th. It was going to be this clever theological justification for singing more carols while maintaining integrity. Here's even how I had it worked out:
First Sunday - "As With Gladness, Men of Old" - no real overt mention of Christ being born, but instead a recalling of that first Christmas and a call to us to observe Christ's presence with us.
Second Sunday - "Go, Tell It on the Mountains" - this is on the Sunday of a John the Baptist text, who proclaimed in the wilderness, so here's an invitation to proclaim from the mountains.
Third Sunday - "Angels We Have Heard on High" - the most overt while we're still way back on December 14th, but the language is still more of an invitation to come and see.
Fourth Sunday - "O Come All Ye Faithful" - The same reasoning that I've always used.
Then I thought about how this is me dealing with my own "But we've always done it this way." I admit to being a bit of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to this issue. But I'm feeling less and less inclined to be so.
For me as much as anyone else, Christmas is a special time when we can sing and hear the carols of the season; experience the sense of hope, peace, joy, and love that we're meant to reflect on during Advent. Those carols help evoke that sense...they're such a big part of it, actually, that perhaps I've been cheating everyone, including myself, out of experiencing it.
So I'm probably using a few more in addition to the four mentioned above. I still want everything to have some methodology to it based on the day's theme rather than arbitrarily plugging a few in every week. Still, this will not be the season to be uptight and rigid.
But hey, let's get through Thanksgiving first.