Sing we now?
We play and sing Christmas carols throughout December, but perhaps we are meant to wait a little?
Sing we now of Christmas is another favourite. It has a bright sound that brings angels to mind, that heavenly host surrounding the messenger above the field outside of Bethlehem with shepherds the chosen witnesses. Carol of the Bells has the same feel to it: pure joy, put to music.
No wonder, then, that we want to sing and play these songs as early as we can, for as long as we can.
Liturgically speaking, the season of Christmas does not actually start until Christmas Day (or perhaps with the watch night service on Christmas Eve). But with pageants, Christmas plays, dinners, services and parties, for community, school, work, Sunday school ... Christmas seems to start in December (or even November).
Isn't that when Advent starts? Liturgically speaking, that's the first season of the Christian calendar: Advent. Waiting.
We don't do waiting very well in our time, our industrially developed cultures, do we? As technology speeds up, our patience seems to run a shorter fuse; we are used to getting things at the click of a finger, in an instant, delivered to our door. We hate waiting for food at restaurants where they cook it well, because we're used to fast food that takes not much more time than it takes to drive from order box to window and pay. Shop managers seem incapable of allowing breathing room from one campaign to another, as pumpkins give way to turkeys, spiders are swept down from their decorative webs and angels and stars hung in their place; and no sooner have we eaten the last mince pie than hot cross buns are on the shelves and eggs and chickens and bunnies are decorating shelves and windows.
Now I know that for the shops, it's more about capitalising on the opportunities for money making. But my point about waiting stands, none-the-less. And I wonder how the church – whose season this is, whose festival Christmas is, however much the world has appropriated it for capitalist purposes – might remind us how to wait? Can the church hold space, press pause, tell the stories of anticipation, promise, and hope, without jumping straight to the end? Can the church celebrate the steps towards Christmas as offering joy in themselves?
It's hard, because we know the story, we have heard it again and again, we know where it goes, to the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem, into homes of the rejected and encounters with the marginalised, to the Temple and the Cross, the Tomb and the closed upstairs room, beach, and path to Emmaus.
The gift of seasons is to hold certain stories for special occasions. The gift of seasons is time and attention for each, in their time. The story of Jesus tells us so much, we do not need to tell it all at once. We can trust that we know where it is going, and simply, deeply, be where we are in the story for this moment, this season.
I think the church forgets the inbuilt gift and beauty of the seasons of our calendar, and gets lost in the immediacy and impatience of the world: and when we do, we miss the opportunity to be, ourselves, a gift to the world. To be the space in which we can pause; to be the permission to wait, to enjoy anticipation, to slow down.
Then, when it is time, we can sing, with joy that is fresh and refreshing, with the understanding that comes through waiting, the peace that comes through paying attention.