One of the more exciting Christmas songs I remember as a child was the 12 Days of Christmas.
It’s unmistakably cheesy and who in their right mind would want all those birds for gifts? But what kid wouldn’t be excited about 12 days of Christmas?!
So here are two questions:
First, why don’t we celebrate all 12 days of Christmas? And second, when is Christmas?
No, I don’t mean, “Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th, you know?” either. Some people are quite concerned with those things – I’m just not one of them.
What are the 12 days of Christmas all about?
I’m not sure why most Evangelical churches don’t celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, but “the Church” celebrates – and has for centuries – Christmas as Christmastide, a 12-day season. And, no surprise, Christmas Day is still December 25th, but the season of Christmastide immediately follows Advent beginning on Christmas Day and following for 11 more days.
The church calendar has divided up the modern calendar year into seasons based around the life of Christ.
The Christian “New Year” begins with the season of Advent. This prepares us for Christmastide by teaching us to wait, to watch and pray, as we await God’s coming.
Why do these Church calendar seasons matter? Can’t we get along without them just fine?
Certainly. And many – most Evangelicals – have. But the seasons of the Christian calendar are not to be viewed as a divine command or obligation.
The seasons of the Christian calendar are an invitation to pay attention and participate with the parts of Israel’s journey and Christ’s life that we tend to overlook. All so we might be formed in the image of Christ.
Being a Christian means that we are brought into the life of Christ and as Paul says in Philippians 3:10 which includes both his resurrection and his suffering.
Participating with the Christian calendar is more than a Sunday School Church history lesson.
It is a tried and true tool that has been curated by the Church historically to keep us from only emphasizing or celebrating the parts of Christ’s life that “move us” or that we prefer.
Constance Cherry says in her book The Worship Architect, “When we follow the Christian year we open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit of God who draws our attention to the deep truths of our faith and presents us with new possibilities for encountering God again and again.”
She’s right, I think. Participation in the seasons can open our eyes to see the work of God around us and within us that we might not have otherwise noticed. Advent, in particular, invites us to enter into the “spirit of waiting” and preparation for Christ to come into our lives again and again.
Advent strategically precedes Christmas – it’s not accidental.
Prior to Christ’s first coming, there was a period of 400 years of silence as they awaited the coming Messiah. Now, though God is not silent and we have been given the Spirit, the Church is again in a perpetual state of waiting for his Second coming.
As a worship pastor, I look for ways for these themes of waiting and preparation to permeate our services! All so that there is a stark contrast between Advent (preparation for Jesus’ coming(s)) and Christmastide (Jesus’ first coming).
Here’s how we incorporate all of this into our services!
We will incorporate different songs in Advent such as the traditional hymns O Come O Come, Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. Also songs like Waiting Here for You, Even So Come, and Make A Way (Jon Egan & Jesus Culture).
If you’re willing to branch out into the “older and/or more obscure” categories there are some wonderful options like: Sing to the King, God With Us (All Sons & Daughters), Come To Us O Lord (Young Oceans), and This is Our God (young Chris Tomlin).
Moments of Reflection & Teaching
Within the worship set, I try to create space to encourage waiting and reflection.
Typically it’s not dramatic, but 15 seconds here and another 15 seconds there can feel quite different and slow the pace of the whole set. I will also do a bit more teaching and exhortation to lead the congregation into participation as it can be difficult for some to know how to engage.
We begin our services with the lighting of the Advent candles, incorporate themed prayers, and preach from the traditional lectionary texts (RCL).
In our Evangelical Charismatic congregation, we’ve slowly added things over the years. We didn’t jump in headfirst and change everything all at once. This seems to have been wisdom. We’ve had increased participation over the years to show for it. And for Christmastide, we will sing Christmas songs and celebrate during Christmas Eve and the following two Sundays.
I’ve had people ask over the years why we’re still singing Christmas songs in January, but I’ve never had anyone really complain about extending Christmas. If there’s ever been a year in recent memory that we need more collective celebration it might just be this year. Advent is already upon us, so happy New Year!
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