Christmas Pet Peeves

I know it’s the most ridiculously wrong time of the year to be talking about pet peeves, but I’ve got ’em. Here’s my Christmas list.

1. The sappy Christmas music that my favorite radio stations start playing right after Thanksgiving. OK, once in awhile I chuckle at some of the more farsical ones, but mostly, I’m just irritated. I heard Christmas stuff on the radio even before Thanksgiving this year! Which leads me to my next gripe.

2. Most of us Christians completely ignore Advent. That’s partly what bugs me about Christmas music. I used to get in a little trouble when I pastored in the local church. I made my congregations actually sing Advent hymns (there aren’t very many in our UM hymnal) during Advent. They are, except for just a handful, little-known. We want to jump right to “the good stuff” with Christmas, so we skip over all the yearning and desire and awareness of our need that Advent draws out. And then, of course, immediately after December 25th, we quit singing carols and stop celebrating too soon. Which leads to my next gripe.

3. Truthfully, the churches that do practice Advent seem to want to avoid all that “second coming” stuff about Jesus that Advent brings up. If you read the lectionary passages from the Gospels, it’s not about “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” It’s about Jesus the Coming King. If we actually paid attention to the Advent scriptures instead of reading them through all the nostalgia associated with Christmas, we might more passionately worship the Newborn King! Which leads to my fourth gripe.

4. The liturgical calendar, which is something to which we should pay attention, gets treated more cyclically than linear-ly (clearly not a word, but oh well…) and we lose sight of history almost completely. The result of this theological amnesia is that remembering and preparing for Jesus’ birthday becomes the focus of our Advent. We start looking only backwards and praying for “Christ to be born in our hearts again,” which, on its face, is not a bad sentiment. It just means that we’re looking in the wrong direction. We should be looking more toward the future and the full coming of the Kingdom. Which leads to my final gripe…for now.

5. Why do we reduce everything to slogans? “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Yes, good reminder, but so pathetically shallow if that’s all the farther we ever go. “Happy Birthday Jesus.” I’m telling you, there ought to be some sort of ecclesial ban on putting this one on a church sign or board or bulletin!

Christmas gets close and all the pop-culture practices fairly nearly cause all of us – even and especially Christians – to miss the point. Christmas is ultimately much less about Jesus’ birthday remembered than it is about the Incarnation of the Word of God. It’s not just a day on the calendar that we have romancticized to the point of nauseum and sentimentalized into meaninglessness. It is (along with the resurrection) the most startling, unexpected, “impossible,” awesome event that has or will ever, ever, ever take place.

Now, before you go off on me as nothing but an old scrooge, consider this truth: the good is the enemy of the best.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

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