Not long ago, a well-meaning person in my congregation asked me, “Are we ever going to sing a Christmas carol?”
At first blush, that might sound a bit harsh. But to be completely honest, it’s a great question.
After all, the secular world begins playing and singing Christmas songs shortly after Thanksgiving. OK, check that … shortly after Halloween. Early on, radio stations begin playing Silver Bells, White Christmas and all the other standards we’ve come to love around the holidays. It’s natural to assume we’d sing Christmas carols in church, too.
Yet in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we only sang two songs that even resembled Christmas carols.
What’s the deal? Why no good cheer? Why no joy to the world? Is it me? Have I turned into Scrooge Curmudgeon in my old age?
I admit I’m getting older, but that’s not why we didn’t sing Christmas carols. There’s a very simple, biblical reason.
It’s called Advent.
OK, yes, Advent is kind of a churchy word that conjures up images of liturgical rituals that seem out of place in the modern church. But the truth is that Advent isn’t really a ritual at all. It’s a season, one of repentance, anticipation and hope.
The word advent itself means “arrival” or “an appearance.” The arrival, of course, is Jesus, soon to be born. But there is much to be done before the Savior’s birth.
In God’s word, a good place to start is in Isaiah 40, verse 3.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
The prophet in this case is foretelling the coming of Jesus about 700 years before the Savior’s birth. Then about three decades after Jesus was born, a man named John the Baptist began heralding His ministry. John did many things, but among the most important was that he called his people to repentance.
And that’s the crux of Advent. It is, first of all, a season of repentance. An invitation to turn away from sin and refocus our hearts on the kingdom of God. That’s a much different tone than the celebratory mood of Christmas.
The songs we sing must be different, too. Christmas carols are wonderful, but they skip the part where we’re asked to examine ourselves, prepare our hearts, and hope for the coming of Christ.
That’s the other part. Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope. We’re getting ready to celebrate the birth of the King. But He’s not here yet, and that fact is made painfully obvious by the awful state of our world. Someday, God will set aside the shootings, wars, genocide, disease, debauchery and every other evil that infects our world. Someday, Jesus will come again and put an end to all of this. But not yet. And we’ve got a lot of preparing to do.
Think about it this way. If you knew the second coming of Christ was four weeks from today, what would you do? Would you celebrate? Or would you prepare? I know what I’d do.
That’s what Advent is all about. It’s about preparation, repentance, and hope.
Christmas Eve is almost upon us. That’s the time to celebrate. That’s the time to let loose and bask in glow of the newborn King. Sing those carols with all your heart. Feel the joy of the Lord and express it freely.
But as we lead up to Christmas, get ready. Because He’s coming.