Saturday, December 3, 2011

Do They Know It's Christmas?

I had a timely phone call from a good friend while on my way to school in the D.C. area the other night. I had had a fairly long day which had started around 5 AM and would not end until close to midnight. I was feeling tired and worn out and had probably even begun to feel the need to stop so as not to fall asleep and he called. We talked for a long time, but it was one of those conversations that didn't feel long and that is even longed for once it's over.

He was lamenting to me of his church's lack of focus on Christmas and Advent in their Sunday morning worship services. There was really no evidence that the Advent season had arrived. The latest praise choruses were being sung with no interspersion of Christmas or Advent focused music. He was pretty frustrated that the focus that he was longing for was being dismissed by his local church.

I jokingly told him that I could come with my band and play "Do They Know It's Christmas?" to perhaps inject a little meaning into both his and their season. As I thought about it later and as I continue to read his laments/ravings on Facebook about his frustration, I have tried to reconcile what is happening.

As a worship leader, I can honestly say that I have been on the side that my friend is railing against. I take no offense in what he is saying because I would consider that I have grown a tremendous amount since that time. Once upon a time, I probably fought against the idea of incorporating Advent focused music into the Sunday morning worship services at my church. It's somewhat ironic that this would be the case with me considering that I generally start listening to Christmas music back in August or September.

I'm not completely sure what would have caused me to have such disdain for the inclusion of this kind of music into a worship service. Maybe I felt as if some of the music was dated. Maybe I felt as if it played too much to the nostalgia and emotions of the congregation. Whatever reason I may have had to do this, I was wrong. I now see this, especially in light of the overwhelming takeover of consumerism within our culture.

Once upon a time, the holiday-heavy Fall was filled with holidays that seemed significant enough to be celebrated on their own. As the consumerism has become more and more rampant, some of those holidays have dropped in significance and even in existence. Do we really understand the significance of Labor Day? I don't, other than the fact that I get a day off. Columbus Day hasn't been celebrated by me for a fair amount of time. Shamefully, I even forgot to acknowledge Veterans on the Sunday after Veteran's Day. I was given grace and made up for it the following Sunday, acknowledging my mistake and exercising the escape clause that allowed for a statute of limitations within a week's time.

This year, more than ever, I was very aware of the transition from Halloween to Christmas. It was almost as if Thanksgiving had dropped from our calendars. My boys like to dress up in superhero and Star Wars costumes and, frankly, I'm not a fan of paying $20 or more for costumes. So, while shopping the 90% discount costume rack at Target, I was very aware of the Christmas section having popped up overnight. What had happened to Thanksgiving? Well, the commercialism of Thanksgiving might seem self-serving, especially considering what the holiday itself signifies. There has been no icon, other than a turkey, for Thanksgiving. Other than people gorging themselves on turkey and other delicacies and a few Virginia Tech fans relishing a holiday that celebrates their precious mascot being eaten, there's not much commercialism on which to capitalize. Why would we actually encourage families to spend time together when we could instead encourage them to spend money for the self-perpetuation of big industry and commercialism?

But I digress. If there was ever a time for followers of Christ to be more focused on celebrating Advent, it would seem that now would be that time. Problem is, instead of being counter-cultural, we have embraced the elements of culture that conveniently fit into our own ideologies and lashed out against the ones that would make a mockery of our beliefs. Can we really have it both ways? Perhaps. Paul was a fan of using culture to speak the message of Truth. While I wouldn't say he embraced culture, he appreciated it and understood that it was an opportunity for an inroad conversation with people about the significance of Christ in his life.

With everyone else having successfully forgotten exactly what Christmas and Advent are for, it would be in the best interest of those of us who consider ourselves disciples of Christ to not necessarily rant and rave against a culture that has forgotten, but instead to lovingly point the way by living out the values that we claim as our own. In other words, doesn't it seem that a good way for us to focus others on Christ during this season would be to focus on Him ourselves?

This Advent season at my church, we decided to forego a "special" Christmas concert during a Sunday night or other night of the week and focus our efforts on our Sunday morning worship times. All of the special elements that may have been reserved for a concert/program are being incorporated into what we do on Sunday mornings when we gather. With only one week of Advent in the books, the result was fascinating and the responses were overwhelmingly encouraging. My hope is that these times and experiences on Sunday mornings will act as a means for our congregation to focus on the significance, importance, and relevance of Advent amidst a culture that is desperately trying to take our eyes off of those very things.

I am not supporting the boycotting of culture, WalMart, Target, or any other organization or system that is perpetuating a misguided focus during this season. I am encouraging that those of us who consider ourselves Christians would simply model what we want everyone else to see. In that way, rather than looking like antiquated, frustrated, and hypocritical prudes who will stop at nothing to attempt to enforce our own values, we instead look like a people who believe in something, that something being that Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting, as we expectantly await the celebration of the coming King and Messiah. Do they know it's Christmas? They will if we show them

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