Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why we hate Advent (or should)

What's this?  Just yesterday you were blogging about maybe taking a break because of your health issues and your anger issues with your health issues, and here you are blogging again not even twenty-four hours later?  Sheesh, hypocrite much?  

Yeah, whatever.  I reserve the right to be a hypocrite about it.  And besides, I didn't say I was going to take a hiatus for sure.  Even the last words of that entry said "I don't know."  

Still, you're being inconsistent.  

Again, whatever.  I'm writing a blog entry.  It beats doing homework.  

And now, in your angry state, you're going to try satire?  Really?  Aren't you getting to be a bit out of control?  

Well, yes.  I did promise that yesterday, after all.  

Oh, good grief, where are the blog police?

It is my experience, in my limited-but-not-that-limited time in a denomination with some aspirations to liturgy, that the whole concept of the season of Advent is (among the average churchgoer at least; many clergy devoutly wish they could do more with the season) grudgingly accepted at best.  It's o.k. or maybe tolerable at best to put up with one Sunday in which the congregation sings Advent hymns (and by "Advent hymns" I mean "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"), but if the Christmas carols aren't in full swing by the second Sunday of December the deacons and elders and Sunday school teachers and Presbyterian Women are emerging from their dark corners, sharpened knives at the ready, all set to perform a pastorectomy and install a more compliant model that will choose nothing but Christmas carols (and none of that funny stuff, no "All my heart today rejoices" or that weird Huron thing) the moment Thanksgiving dinner is digested.

This has its, shall we say, inconsistencies.  In many cases these are the same people who complain most loudly when department stores start putting up their Christmas displays sometime around Arbor Day, and radio stations start playing Christmas music well before Thanksgiving.  (Admittedly the latter does somewhat resemble a crime against humanity, and should probably be covered under the Geneva convention.  But I digress.)  Oftimes these are the same folks as well who will be most wont to complain about the tiresomely argued "war on Christmas" that some shadowy cabal is supposedly waging on us poor persecuted American Christians.

Now another funny feature of this tendency is that, once Christmas Day (or more specifically, the Christmas Eve service) is over, that's the end of Christmas.  People who show up for church on the first Sunday after Christmas (and that is a rather slim number indeed) are often shocked to find Christmas hymns in the bulletin.  "Huh?  Christmas is over.  What's this doing here?"

For a long time I presumed that this was a simple case of the church's cultural captivity, simply having no other concept of how to spend December aside from relentlessly doing "Christmas" over and over again until December 25 itself becomes an exhausted anticlimax.  Now I'm not so sure.

I'm beginning to think people know what Advent is, and that they hate what Advent is.

There are specific reasons for this.  After all, look what Advent serves up for sermon fodder.  Today's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary offer up lessons from Jeremiah 33, 1 Thessalonians 3, and Luke 21, along with the expected psalm that nobody ever preaches on.

"1 Thessalonians 3 seems rather harmless, but Jeremiah 33 is a little scary if you look at it too closely.  It starts off fine with its talk of fulfilling promises, but it goes off the rails quickly enough when it starts to harp on words like "justice" and "righteousness."  Why, the words "righteous" or "righteousness" crop up three times in verses fifteen and sixteen alone.  And righteousness is such a tedious subject.  Everybody knows that talking about righteousness is just another excuse to accuse people of bad financial practices/sexual behavior/recreational activities/(insert pet vice here), and who wants to listen to that when there are greens to hang and manger scenes to set up?  And justice?  Now you're getting political.  Totally out of line, and we won't stand for it.  We give to those charitable things exactly so we don't have to think about this kind of business, and you're going to throw it in our faces when we should be singing "Silent Night" for the first of thirty-five times this month?  Just stop.  Quit asking us to think this time of year.

"Jeremiah 33 is bad enough, but Luke 21 is a freaking disaster area.  "Signs in the sun, moon, and stars"?? What is this, an M. Night Shyamalan movie?  You're really going to preach that text now, in twenty-first century America?  In December 2012 of all months, with that Mayan calendar foolishness in full swing?  And just a year after that Harold Camping pratfall about predicting the end of the world?  Good grief, just stop.  It's strange and confusing and you're not that good a preacher.  Yeah, yeah, it gets on to talking about "watching" and "being alert" and those are Advent words, we know, we just don't want to hear them.  The only getting ready we want to do involves spending money we don't have to buy stuff we already have perfectly good versions of.  It's only over-commercialization of Christmas when other people do it; when I do it it's "being a good parent."

"Things don't get any better the rest of Advent, sadly for you.  The second Sunday is bearable, because a couple of the texts sound like things we heard when the local orchestra did Messiah this weekend, but still, a sentence like "but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?" isn't exactly hopeful, is it?  And the gospel just brings in that creepy John the Baptist quoting more obscure prophets.  Bleah.  There's some canticle in there, which sounds good, but now that I look at it closely it's about John the Baptist too.  You don't even get anything about Bethlehem or Mary and Joseph until two days before Christmas, just more creepy prophets going on about things I don't understand and that might make me uncomfortable, and more John the Baptist, who really seems to have anger issues.  And even two days before Christmas they insist on throwing in the Magnificat, which sounds cute but is really rather radical and political now that I read it instead of listening to somebody sing it.

"So, yeah, we've had it with this Advent thing.  We know what you preachers are up to: you're looking for an excuse to preach instead of telling cute Christmas stories and letting the little kids sing.  It might even be best if you don't preach at all in December, pastor.  Just have the church put on musical programs and cute Christmas stories from the Bible all month.  That way we can have our fun and not be threatened by all that justice and righteousness talk.  What do you think we want to do, change our ways?  No, thank you.  We'll keep Christmas nice and safe and harmless so we can go back to ignoring it and living exactly the way we want to when it's all over.

"And don't think we won't perform another pastorectomy.  We remember how, and the knives are still sharp."

Oh, good grief.  THIS is how you're blogging the first week of Advent?  Seriously, don't do satire.  And you should probably take that hiatus.

Yeah, whatever.

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