At this festive time of year, you will often find the Grump being…well, Grumpy. And it’s not just because of the Seasonal Depression, either, although that is certainly part of it, and I am living into that reality.
Advent is one of the few non-commercialized seasons of the Christian year, along with Lent (and I guess Ordinary times, but those don’t count), even though the rest of the world sees it as “The Christmas season.” (See previous posts of Christmas and Advent to find out what I think about that). As a result, those who want to maintain a sense of liturgical purity and hover ten feet above the rest of us slobs will often refer to Advent in almost militant ways. “Have a Blessed Advent,” They will sanctimoniously intone whenever someone wishes them a Merry Christmas. Honestly, these people are more annoying to me than the whole “Put Christ back in Christmas” crowd. No, I take that back. They are both equally annoying. These are the people who will argue online about whether it’s purple candles or blue, and who will insist that “it’s not a pink candle, it’s rose,” and who will change their Twitter names to things like, “Joe-it’s-not-Christmas-yet-it’s-still-Advent-Schmoe.” We get it, you’re high church! Get over yourself already.
On the other hand, I’m just as annoyed this time of year with people who want to rush things and have us singing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” before Mary’s even gotten through the Magnificat on Advent 1. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” is the theory here, and I don’t agree a bit. I was always that annoying pastor who didn’t let the congregation sing all the good Christmas songs before Christmas, and because I often had a Christmas day service at the churches I served, I sometimes sang the most favorite of the Christmas songs at that service, which generally ticked people in my congregations off entirely. That’s probably why I do campus ministry now.
Here on campus, we celebrate Advent 1 (just did it in Chapel yesterday), and then smash the rest of Advent and Christmas into an extravagant celebration on the last Chapel of the year. This annoys my more liturgically-strict friends, but it brings delight to my grumpy soul to see the students I work with have the opportunity to have Christmas with their family of choice before they go home to celebrate with their families of origin.
I have mixed feelings about Advent, and a weird history of keeping the season. When I was in the parish, I used to go nuts doing all the preparation work for Christmas (ask my wife about the time I tried to make a special box for a magic trick I wanted to do on Christmas Eve…on Christmas Eve!) My first year in college ministry, I almost ran myself ragged because I had all this pent up energy that I didn’t know what to do with, and I drove my family (and myself) nuts. Now, I’m decidedly more chill about it all, and I’ve made my peace with Advent, but I still reserve the right to be grumpy about it.
And I guess that having a complicated relationship with the Sacred is what this season is all about. We didn’t know what to do with the “free” part of our free will, so we went about murdering each other over whose sacrifice to God was better, and on and on until God finally had to step in and say, “Get a life, y’all!” (Literally, that’s what the Greek says.) It’s in our very grumpiness that God meets us, in our messed-up mess of a world, in our darkness and despair. God brings light into what is literally (for the Northern hemisphere at least) the darkest part of the year, and because we’re so dumb about things, we don’t recognize it for what it is–the Word made flesh (see John 1)
So this Advent, be grumpy! In other words, be yourself. If you get excited by purple candles, use them. If you swoon over blue vestments, use them. Don’t yell at people who call the third candle “pink,” though. They know not what they do. Celebrate Christmas, watch Hallmark movies (or don’t), fast and seek repentance of your sins–whatever you do, do it your way. And don’t let a Grump like me (or another of our kind) to tell you what you can or cannot do.