Advent Sympathy

You may have noticed that at All Saints we’re still celebrating Advent, not Christmas … at least not yet. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every Sunday, but not “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come." I’m sorry if this annoys you. If you, like millions of American Christians, start the season with “Silent Night” the day after Thanksgiving, I can offer you sympathy, but only sympathy. At All Saints “Silent Night” will have to wait till Christmas Eve.

There’s a reason for this.

G.K. Chesterton explained it like this a hundred years ago:

“There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day.”

In Isaiah 35 the prophet speaks of the coming of the Lord: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." It’s a passage we’ll consider together in more detail this Sunday morning, one that is obviously appropriate for the Advent season. Chesterton’s emphasis and Isaiah’s are, I think, one and the same. The coming of the Lord, while not unanticipated, is sudden, and because of this, we should always be ready. Our songs, our symbols, and our lives should reflect this.

*Painting – Pablo Picasso, The Blind Man's Meal (detail)