On Christmas Carols in November
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Why are people so angry about Christmas carols in November? Word has gone around the internet that Shoppers’ Drug Mart has decided, in response to customer feedback, to nix playing Christmas carols this month. How sad. To my way of thinking, there’s nothing quite like Christmas carols in November. As I write this, Athena is practicing carols on her flute. On Monday, we begin choir practice for our December 16th “Festival of Lessons and Carols,” and oh how I love to hear them played and sung. There is nothing quite so soul-stirring as the strains of music extolling the birth of our Saviour.
It seems as if we in the liturgical tradition have become hostages to the liturgical year. Even as I am writing these words there are doubtless many liturgical fundamentalists out there bemoaning the fact that Christmas carols are now being played and sung in malls, stores, and perhaps even over the radio. They will lament the fact that carols will stop on December 26th, when the great Twelve Days are only just underway. They will scoff at their brothers and sisters who are members of non-liturgical churches that will sing carols during Advent, when they should be offering Advent hymns. And no doubt, they will deride me for calling them out for what they are, fundamentalists.
To be sure, I think we should have a healthy offering of Advent hymns during the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, hymns that underscore the theme of waiting, of the coming of the Kingdom, of the Blessed Virgin, and John the Baptist who cried out in the wilderness “Prepare ye the Way of the Lord!” It is true that we do not know how to wait very well anymore. It is true that we need to embrace a discipline of waiting from time-to-time. It is true that we ought to take some time to let those Advent themes wash over us. It is true that we ought to enter into the narrative of the liturgical year as a way of participating in the sacred drama. But, the words of that favourite carol are true as well: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
The Lord is come! The great truth of our faith is that Jesus IS here already. What we act out in our liturgical cycle is a drama that allows us to enter into the story and feel the contours of a reality, however, the liturgical cycle is not the reality itself; that God is with us in Jesus Christ, is the reality. God is with us now. He has entered into our lives, into our world, into our hearts. This is not something that has yet to happen; it is for us our reality. When we forget that Jesus is here, that the “Lord is come,” we lose our grasp on reality. If I must give up that reality in favour of the liturgical drama that is intended to help us see it, well, you can keep the liturgical drama, I will choose to sing “the Lord is come!”
None of this is to say that we should abandon Advent and all it means and all it points to. I’m all in favour of the drama of the liturgical year. I love it. I embrace it. I seek to offer a liturgical cycle in my parish that draws the worshiper into the unfolding sacred mystery, into the story of our redemption. But let’s not get all psycho when a Christmas carol slips through here and there. And for goodness’ sake, let’s celebrate the fact that songs extolling the birth in time of the timeless Son of God are still heard in the public sphere. Let’s celebrate that we have the freedom to hear and sing our songs of faith. Let’s celebrate that maybe, just maybe, someone out there will hear the words, “O Holy Child of Bethlehem be born in us today” and Jesus will be real to them and change their life forever. I, for one, am pleased to hear, whether it be in December, or November, or any day of the year, that “the Lord is come.”
c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves