Christmas in July, or is there a better time to talk about Christmas?

On my post from yesterday, fellow Methodist blogger Sally Coleman asked the question ‘What do we do?’ about rescuing the Christmas story from the border of cuteness and sentimentality. It’s an important question and it haunts me because by the time the Nativity Plays and Carol Services (two sacred cows I am not willing to touch) come out, everyone is ready for the peace and joy that we generally associate with the season. It is hard to draw us back in to remind us, as the BBC’s version of the Nativity did so well, that at the heart of the story was a pregnant teenager who may have been called a whore and that the shepherds were on the fringes of society trying to make hard decisions.

I picked up a book today called A Not-So-Silent Night by Verlyn D. Verbrugge, who is trying to get us to look at the darker side of Christmas and remember it’s connection to Good Friday. As this has been on my mind this week, I bought it and read the introduction this evening. He starts out by relating the story of writing Advent devotions for a 365 day bible. In it he tried to write them with a darker meditation, but the editors asked him to change them because no one wants that sort of thing in their Christmas devotions. Verbrugge concluded that this may not be the best time or place to explore those themes.

My first thought was, ‘Well, when is?’ And then I began to think about it seriously. Perhaps we need a better time to think through Christmas when the themes aren’t so tied to what is going on in the month of December. Maybe ditching the lectionary in the summer months and returning to these themes then. Or would they lose their shock value if they couldn’t be confronted with the counter-cultural call?

So, are there any better suggestions on when and how we might give back the stories of Christmas their original power and context?

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6 thoughts on “Christmas in July, or is there a better time to talk about Christmas?

  1. you make a good point Will, my dialogue with the Pagan community reveals that we engage with and misunderstand much of their symbolism at Christmas-time, indeed we have “borrowed” traditions and reinterpreted them. This is not always good or helpful.. and then we dare to accuse them of the reverse!!!

    Perhaps we need the dark-side of Christmas to tell it’s own story to release the truth within the myth- we must rmember though that a myth is a story that reveals truth!!!

  2. I always fancied a staggered Christmas (no not from alcohol). With 3 Churches I could have Christmas in December, January and February. Then I could pace things better and offer more depth.

    Not quite the same point as you are making though.

    More seriously there is so much important stuff in the scriptures that I would not want to lose by focusing on Christmas at other times.

    Maybe one answer is a focus on building groups and individuals for deeper discipleship during the year so that they will continue during “busy” consumer times such as Christmas.

  3. I wonder if Christmas in July wouldn’t actually be a good idea. I know that in the Bible belt South, so many in my congregation think that the idea of a church calendar is “high church,” ie, not relevant or important. Or they just aren’t paying attention – so Advent is a surprise they aren’t ready for, etc. It would be interesting to take some time during the summer or even fall to speak more clearly on why we follow the church year, why it’s important, and how all the “holidays” fit together. Maybe talking about Christmas and Good Friday without so much time in between to distract us might help us be better prepared to combat the secular bombardment at Easter and Christmas. Plus, how fun would it be to sing Silent Night in July?!

  4. Sally: Sally, I hadn’t thought about how Christian Christmas symbols may be interpreted and how that might be a hindrance to some when talking about Christmas. Having stripped them away (in July, for instance) it might get not get in the way. Is that what you’re talking about?

    Also, I understand your point about myth, though I am reluctant to use the word in that way! Certainly, I know that there is no record of a census at the time (and doubtful one happened then), but I still believe that Luke has made it an important part of the story and that truth needs to be retained. That’s why i compare it to the Thanksgiving story in my previous post.

    Dave: That sounds like a great idea! While it wasn’t the point of my post, what you mention has been behind it. It’s difficult to have any continuity with more than one church. We did a theme preaching with the Advent Conspiracy, but it is hard for me to jump from one church to the next (and I can never be sure what’s being preached in the church when I am gone, but this is usually an American fear rather than a British one).

    I didn’t mean do Christmas in July every year, but once every so often. I get bogged down by the lectionary in the middle of summer sometimes!

    The groups are a good suggestion, but I ran into two problems: 1) small groups have yet to take hold in the church, and 2) December can be a time when those groups take a holiday because it is so busy. Neither of those are reasons not to do something, as even a small number of people may influence the congregation!

    Johannah: Yes, the church needs more instruction on the church calendar! It is a shame that so many pastors in the US forgo Advent hymns after ‘O Come Immanuel’ on the first Sunday of Advent and go with Christmas Carols after that! Not as bad over here, thankfully.

    Lance: Yes, that was the play on the phrase.

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