Craft of Preaching

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In Defense of Singing Christmas Carols During Advent!

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Okay, so I know this is contested ground.

After all, many pastors have resisted at some cost the insistent requests of their parishioners to sing Christmas carols during Advent. And if you're one of these pastors, the last thing you probably want is some seminary professor weighing in against you.

However, I ask you to hear me out as I briefly offer three reasons to consider reversing course. If, after that, you still disagree, you can navigate quickly to another page and never mention this website to your people.

1) There is probably no other season in the church year represented by greater breadth (coming from more nations and peoples) or depth (from the 3rd to the 21st centuries) of Christian hymnody. When you sing the songs of Christmas, you are tapping into traditions of all times, people, and places.

2) If we wait until Christmas, we simply don't have enough time to enjoy these treasures. Think about it: apart from Christmas Eve (and the occasional Christmas Day service), there are just two Sundays after Christmas, and because of the calendar, we often only have one.

3) We cannot let the malls take over our heritage! If we're not teaching our children the carols, they'll learn them from the popular culture or not at all. In that case, you run the risk that they won't be able to distinguish between Irving Berlin's version of Christmas and the Bible's.

In response to these three points, I've heard two main arguments for prohibiting Christmas carols in Advent. One is that we miss the great carols and hymns of Advent. Fair enough. But I answer, sing them both! Teach the congregation to know and love the Advent carols along side those of Christmas.

The second is that we shouldn't celebrate Christmas too early or it will spoil the significance. Apart from sounding an awful lot like the old argument for not celebrating Holy Communion weekly, I'd say the significant difference at stake is between preparation and celebration, not between Advent and Christmas carols. And who says you can't sing Christmas carols in preparation for Christmas? Let this concern for anticipation, as well as the texts for the day and the traditions of your congregation, guide you in choosing some wonderful carols that can enhance your preparation for and celebration of Christmas.

Okay, so there it is. Confident of your Christian freedom, now go and do as you see fit. Thanks for listening -- and blessed Advent and Christmas!

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