Advent, not. But....
You know, like price tags. Duh.
Now, it's the season of Advent in the church. A time of quiet reflection and preparation for the coming of the Lord. We are not doing Christmas yet, and we are not about consumption and frantic activity and the like.
It is not Advent in Rockefeller Center. Or in the mall. Or at restaurants. Or in any of the places that make the bulk of their income for the year during the "holiday shopping season," which lasts a varying amount of time, depending on where you are. In the tourist town where I live, Christmas stuff goes up in the shops in August or September, whenever people are expected to be in town. The whole town is decorated by the first Sunday in December, which is a huge day for visitors. The merchants want to remind people that buying something from them to give as a Christmas gift is a great idea!
Lately, I've heard some good conversation about the whole "Advent police" thing - that is, church people scolding everybody who enjoys "Christmas during Advent" (or even before).
These days, I'm kind of "whatever."
Merchants make most of their money during the last quarter of the year. They count on Christmas sales to make it into the black column with their finances. Why should this surprise us? Not just the big conglomerates but the Mom and Pop stores, too. They need a big holiday season of sales to make a living. So do the clerks and stock people and buyers - many of them our neighbors - who work at these stores. Shall we denigrate people who are making their living this way?
But the church is different. The season of Advent at church is not all mixed up with everyone's livelihood. The church is countercultural. (And again, that's kind of the point. The world is doing Christmas in October, but we are different. Same as it ever was, to quote David Byrne.)
Still, that doesn't mean we should scold our parishioners for putting up their Christmas trees and wearing their holiday sweaters to church. (Jim Naughton put it thus at his essay at The Episcopal Cafe: Your people don't need you to tell them that "You're ruining Advent!") Jesus was able to take on the Pharisees about their practices, but frankly, we aren't Jesus and most of us almost always just come off like shrill killjoys when we think we are imitating him.
But it does mean that we model something else in our services and in our lives, as much as we can. I'm not suggesting we join the other side here. But maybe we're not in your face about Advent. We offer some quiet time, an alternative to the busy world out there. We don't overschedule ourselves or our staff or our parishioners. We sing Advent hymns and preach Advent sermons about preparation for the Incarnation. We build in some down time for reflection and spiritual preparation.
Frankly, that's pretty hard. The season out there in the real world that all of us live in every day is so busy and there are many opportunities for mission and outreach and wreath making and singing that we can overschedule while sincerely trying to observe Advent. And it is admittedly hard sometimes not to cringe at people showing up for church in Santa hats. But. We don't have to be so dour and finger-wagging about the whole thing. Surely there are ways to get the Advent message across with gentleness and love. If people see us happy and calm, maybe they will want that for themselves. If they see us scolding and scowling, they may well run away screaming.
So let's all give one another a break. Let's do observe Advent, but let's not be the Advent Police. Let's lead by example and not by simply scolding complaining ("You're ruining Advent!"). Life is short. Life is hard. Love people. So what if they "like" puppies on Facebook instead of signing up for silent retreats.
Just love people anyway.