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What happened to Advent?

AdventWhat happened to Advent? Christmas decorations have been going up in the shops as soon as Halloween stuff came down. Christmas carols have been playing before Advent even began.

Northern Hemisphere Christians visiting here might comment about your own context (the context, remember, where the seasons of Advent and Christmas originate).

There are obvious issues in translating Advent and Christmas to the Southern Hemisphere:
In January New Zealand pretty much shuts down. So having a Christmas season stretching into January is not going to realistically work. Those Anglophiles who want to extend it all the way to the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (February 2) as they do in Mother England are trying to push water uphill with a rake! New Zealand celebrates Christmas by anticipation. Some parishes try and hold out from singing Christmas carols until at least Advent 4 – they are rare. Schools close in December. At schools, the choice is either celebrating Christmas (very) early, or not celebrating it at all. Anglophile attempts to have a (red) pre-Advent Advent Season also get no traction.

We must deal with the real.

Add your suggestions to how we can keep Advent. Here are some of mine

  • Homes as well as churches have an advent wreath, lighting candles, having a short reading and prayer and singing. (Some places of work could do this).
  • Don’t get caught up in the frenetic purchasing storm. Give one another charity gifts instead.
  • Make time to slow down. Pray. Read Scripture. Meditate. Commit to a slow Advent (however that works out in practice in your context).
  • As well as increasingly using Christmas carols towards Christmas, do not neglect the great Advent Hymns:

Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus
Hills of the North, rejoice
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Lo! he comes with clouds descending
O come, O come, Emmanuel
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Certainly Advent 1, at least, can focus on these (how did your community do for Advent 1?).

What are your ideas?

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43 thoughts on “What happened to Advent?”

  1. I tell you what, it’s like pushing water uphill with a rake to try and extend the season of Christmas here in the UK, too – the shops start taking their decorations down on Boxing Day, if not last thing on Christmas Eve, and January is basically like Narnia: always winter and never Christmas, only redeemed by the noticeably longer days towards the end of the month.

    And here, too, churches fight an increasingly losing battle against starting Christmas too early. The Church where I’m supposed to belong was decorating its Christmas Tree on Friday, although the Church where I preached this morning didn’t have one yet. And we have two Christmas parties next week – my grandson’s playgroup, who have deliberately done it early so as not to clash with older brothers’ and sisters’ school parties, and our Church Christmas Dinner. No Circuit Advent service this year, alas 🙁 (New Superintendent who didn’t know that tradition).

    And yes, we sang O Come o Come and Lo he Comes this morning; I wasn’t sure if they’d know Let All Mortal Flesh or Hills of the North. I’m preaching again on the 16th and we’ll certainly have it then, also On Jordan’s Bank, as the church I’m going to has a choir or worship group, I believe. I would seriously love to do Wachet Auf but don’t think any of our churches would be up for it!

    1. Thanks so much, Annabel, for this Northern Hemisphere perspective. I’m not surprised that, once again, those here who hanker after Mother England, and construct our liturgical life here to mimic that, are yearning for an idealised, photoshopped, fantasy rather than any concrete reality. Blessings.

  2. Our Church here had a full church – about 3 times a normal main Sunday worship- for a fine Advent service of Lessons and Carols, O Antiphons etc last evening= -instead of our usual Sunday evening sung evensong. I expect a goodly number come for the music and carefully chosen readings by carefully chosen readers. Our rector will rejoice in his blue vestments during Advent and the Christmas Tree will go up on 24th Dec. With many others i rejoice and do take things of the Spirit from it. I understand at the Children’s service in the morning they “stirred up”.. But given my possibly over questioning nature I wonder how important Jesus would think was all this traditionalist carrying on as a prelude to what to me is the mythical story of his birth. I do not advocate Luke;s story being put aside because I see it as a touching human celebration of his coming into the world. And humans need these symbols and metaphors in an effort to understand. But Jesus was so concentrated, so down to earth that I wonder as above. Then he did use metaphor himself all the time.

    1. Yes, Brian. If we remove sign, symbol, metaphor, and story – what do we have left? Let us hope people grow to see these are signposts to the reality, rather than the Reality. Blessings.

  3. Bosco at the Parish I am organist we have a children’s service on the first sunday of the month and so we ended up having an Advent Children’s service which explained what Advent was and instead of the sermon the children made little Advent wreaths while the adults redecorated last year’s wreath. Music was mostly Children’s songs except for an “Advent Wreath Song” that I wrote to the tune of Little Cornard (Hills of the North. Hopefully we’ll have more of the traditional hymns over the next few weeks but I ended up doing jazz arrangements of some more Advent focused spirituals as voluntaries.

      1. Hi Bosco here you go I’m not sure what you guys will make of them.

        Advent Wreath Song
        To the parish of Holy Trinity Port Chalmers
        Advent 2012
        Tune: Little Cornard
        Words by Richard Brown

        First verse to be sung each week except Christmas day, see last verse

        Advent’s the time of year, when we light the wreath,
        Lit for all the world, waiting for Christ’s birth
        O come lord Jesus enter in, a world that is in need of thee.

        Candle of hope we light, lit for all the world
        Hope is the saviour’s song, hope for Christ’s birth
        This song we sing for all the world, that Jesus Christ may be, our hope.

        Candle of Love we light, lit for all the world
        Love is the saviour’s song, love for Christ’s birth
        This song we sing for all the world, that we may know the love of Christ.

        Candle of peace we light, lit for all the world
        Peace is the saviour’s song, peace at Christ’s birth
        This song we sing for all the world, that we may know the peace of Christ.

        Candle of Joy we light, lit for all the world
        Joy is the saviour’s song, joy at Christ’s birth
        This song we sing for all the world, that Jesus Christ may be, our joy.

        Optional Christmas if you’re not sick of the tune by then

        Christ child is born now, light the white candle,
        Sing praises of his birth, worship the new born king
        This song we sing for all the world, since Jesus Christ, is born anew

        1. Thanks, Brian. So do you sing the first verse & one other verse, or all the verses up to the candle you are lighting? The tune, for those who don’t know it, is the one used for “Hills of the North…”. Blessings.

          1. well sunday was first Sunday which his hope so we sang the first two verses but it would depend on if you want to have another opening hymn as well. Either way would work.

        2. Richard, may I suggest that you have your verses disordered? I believe that they are traditionally Hope, Peace, Joy & Love.

          Joy being the theme of the 3rd Sunday, Gaudete Sunday, when in many churches the vestments and paraments are changed to rose. It is called Gaudete Sunday for the for the first word of the traditional introit or Entrance Antiphon, rejoice. The more penitential nature of Advent gives way for this moment to the joy of the coming of the child.

          Since transplanting to Dallas, TX, in the Fall, I have been attending the Cathedral of Hope UCC and being a historically GLBT congregation, they are having fun with the anticipation for 3rd Sunday, calling it Pink Sunday.

          1. Thanks David I wasn’t entirely sure what the order was, I’ve seen many different orders of the same themes in different churches

  4. Thank you ,Bosco. Re Annabel’s comment and your response to it there was brief but thought provoking article in “The New Statesman” on the 14 June, 2012 “God’s Peculiar Peculiar People”.
    Towards the end you read “In particular, the Church of England has cannily positioned itself as the linchpin of a multi-faith society…”As such it seems to me that on one hand it is trying to be very with it so you get Annabel’s first paragraph and on the other hand (a much smaller hand so a poor metaphor) the diehards both Anclo-catholic and Evangelical try to banish the world as it is from any consideration so perhaps we are left with a muddle and confusion.

  5. Wello, Bosco, I don’t know about other churches in the Christchurch diocese, but I can tell you about Saint Michael & All Angels, where we follow the liturgical calendar – mid-week as well as on Sundays.

    We did actually host the Cathedral’s Advent Carol Service on Saturday, 1 Dec. Eve of Advent Sunday.

    We also celebrated the traditional observance of Advent I, in this way:
    08.00 BCP Low Mass (at which I was privileged to preside (facing Eastwards, with Gothic chasuble)
    10.00 Modern High Mass, with Revv.Lynn & Crauford
    19.00 Advent Carol Service with Revd. Lynn
    (we espied Bishop Victoria in the congregation)

    We shall be celebrating Advent Eucharist every day until Christmas Eve, when the vigil High Mass begins @ 2300hrs. Christmas Day Masses at 8 & 10.

    So yes. We, at SMAA, certainly differentiate between Advent and Christmas, on a daily basis!

  6. As noted it started in Advent. And unlike a number of my friends, acquaitances I have never been upset by the”Christmas” carry-on.

    John Betjeman (1906–1984)

    The bells of waiting Advent ring,
    The Tortoise stove is lit again
    And lamp-oil light across the night
    Has caught the streaks of winter rain
    In many a stained-glass window sheen
    From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

    The holly in the windy hedge
    And round the Manor House the yew
    Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
    The altar, font and arch and pew,
    So that the villagers can say
    ‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

    Provincial Public Houses blaze,
    Corporation tramcars clang,
    On lighted tenements I gaze,
    Where paper decorations hang,
    And bunting in the red Town Hall
    Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

    And London shops on Christmas Eve
    Are strung with silver bells and flowers
    As hurrying clerks the City leave
    To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
    And marbled clouds go scudding by
    The many-steepled London sky.

    And girls in slacks remember Dad,
    And oafish louts remember Mum,
    And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
    And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
    Even to shining ones who dwell
    Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

    And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
    Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
    A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
    The Maker of the stars and sea
    Become a Child on earth for me ?

    And is it true ? For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
    Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
    Bath salts and inexpensive scent
    And hideous tie so kindly meant,

    No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
    Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare —
    That God was man in Palestine
    And lives today in Bread and Wine.

  7. In the areas I’ve lived in the northeastern US, cultural (=commercial) Christmas begins at Thanksgiving. Retail drives advertising which drives media programming, so the heart of the season probably runs from Thanksgiving (4th Thursday of November) into the first week or so of December, with another blip just before the 24th. (When I lived in the UK, I was delighted that they have lavish Christmas shows on television on Christmas Day — Dr. Who, and such; that wouldn’t happen here, because no one would sponsor it something after all the money’s been spent).

    The Episcopal churches I’m aware of all hold the line against any Christmas on Sunday morning until the 24th. Extra-liturgically, they do Christmas bazaars, caroling, parties, and so on during Advent, but nothing during worship. The generation of priests prior to my own (I’m 58) came out of seminary all fired up about Advent as one of the great gifts of our Anglican heritage. They fought battles with organists and lay people to keep Christmas at bay. The Advent 1 sermons of my youth could be a touch curmudgeonly: “Bah, Humbug until midnight on the 24th!” There was, to be honest, a whiff of pride in the purity of their celebration.

    There’s a downside to this, as anyone who chooses hymns for Christmas 1 will recognize. We Christians gave the world these wonderful songs, and the only time we enjoy singing them in church is at midnight mass on Christmas eve. (We do in fact sing them on Christmas 1 and 2, but remember I specified that we “enjoy” singing them — everybody’s sick of the big hymns by then.) Fortunately, there are plenty of good little Christmas hymns, but it’s still a shame we miss singing some of the best in the context of worship.

    Another downside is that often I have encountered people who find themselves drawn to church for the first time in a long time at Christmas, only to discover that this is the one place where there’s no Christmas.

    I’m a priest who loves music, seasons, and the Incarnation, but I’d say most of my Christmas associations if I’m honest are memories of concert halls, gatherings of friends, movies with my kids, and listening to carols in the car. I’m also a man of my own time, though, and I would have trouble accepting Christmas in church during Advent.

    I recently heard Richard Rohr tell a story about going to Gethsemeni Abbey and being told that many of the monks had resented Thomas Merton because they had thought they were holy contemplatives and Merton told them they were just introverts. It made me wonder how much of the anti-holiday party preaching I heard from the pulpit during my youth was just about the priest wishing he could go spend more time reading Dickens in front of the fireplace.

    There’s a part of me that would love to spend Christmas in a monastery, but I wonder whether that longing for pure spirituality isn’t anti-Incarnational.

    But I digress!

  8. I have transplanted to live in Dallas, TX, USA of recent and have been attending the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ, a former MCC congregation, with a historic ministry to the GLBT community in North Texas. This is definitely Advent at CoH. The congregation uses a ginormous Advent Wreath that is suspended from the ceiling with a cable and electric winch, so that it can be lowered and raised as needed. It is lowered to almost eye level to light the candles during a lighting liturgy and raised again to hover over the assembly during the service.

    The sanctuary has been decorated with simple greens and tiny white lights, including two large evergreen trees on the chancel.

    I have posted photos taken last Sunday at this url;

      1. BTW, the red plants decorating the chancel are called poinsettias in the US. They come from Mexico and have been a popular plant associated with Christmas for centuries. In Spanish they are called la Noche Buena, which is also what Christmas Eve is called in Spanish, the Good Night.

        At CoH they are bought in memory or in honor of a loved one(s) and as it gets closer to Christmas Day the chancel will become more filled with these beautiful plants with the bright red leaves.

  9. Bosco, can you or any of your readers recommend CDs of Advent music rather than Christmas carols (of which I have many)?

    1. Robert, I will facebook and tweet this good question, and also ask around. [Please can you remember to use your normal name here so we can keep the sense of positive community]. Blessings.

      1. Thank you and apologies. rwmg is what I use commenting on other wordpress blogs and the computer fills it in automatically unless I’m paying attention.

        1. No problem, Robert. I can actually alter it at the point of moderation – but you’ll understand my slight reluctance to do that. There are comments coming in with DC suggestions – so I hope you keep checking back on the thread. Blessings.

    2. For the next 5 days, you can listen to “A Service for Advent with Carols” on BBC3, here:


      (the first minute and a half of that link are the end of a very russian choral piece that was playing before the service ran on BBC3 — don’t give up, Advent will arrive around 3 minutes in).

  10. There is a new cd out this year by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, a community of contemplative religious sisters in northwest Missouri called Advent in Ephesus. I recently got a copy, and I am really enjoying it. You should check it out!

    1. Thanks, Dave. You had “learned in seminary that Advent is the season of… penitential preparation”. And “If we express too much joy so early in the season, then we will demonstrate that we are not sufficiently sorry for our sins.” I think your education confused Advent too much with Lent. And I’m not convinced by the theory that 25 December is a sell-out to paganism, though it doesn’t worry me if it was. Blessings.

    2. I would agree that there is a little bit of penitential aspect to Advent, but not as much as Lent. The penitential nature accounts for the purple of blue of the season’s color. But I’m with Bosco about the pagan connection for Christmas. One of the earliest festivals of the developing church year was the conception of Mary, celebrated on 25 MAR. Then years after, someone got around to counting 9 months later and realized that the birth would be 25 DEC.

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