Christmas at College

Taylor's new post about rethinking Christmas (not to mention the Hallmark store selling ornaments I passed last night) got me thinking about one of the peculiarities of worship in communities which are not congregations.

I serve in campus ministry, so when it comes to celebrating Christmas with my college students, I can't. By the time December 24th rolls around, finals are complete, the dorms are vacant, and students--even if they live only 25 miles away--are home. Not on my campus. Not celebrating Christmas.

Which makes Advent, misunderstood and largely ignored already, pretty much it. Not that it can really hope to compete with the last-day-of-class parties and cramming for finals and teary semester-ending goodbyes. It just hopes it can hold a candle to Lent and Easter. But I faithfully stood by its side for my first few years.

But celebrating the liturgical season properly (i.e. getting through the first 2 weeks of Advent and then calling it quits until Baptism of the Lord in January) just didn't work right, so I bailed on the calendar. When students come back from Thanksgiving, we do a week (or 2 if the calendar permits) of Advent, lighting candles and heightening expectation. Then, the last week of class, we have our Christmas service...about 3 weeks early.

I rationalize, in good Methodist fashion, that this is a mission field appointment with unique contours and a distinctly un-congregational rhythm which the lectionary and liturgical year are ill-equipped to manage. And I do encourage the students to participate in their home congregations where they can experience the extraordinary richness of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. But it seems a better compromise to fit the trajectory of the seasons to the context than to summarily truncate it without so much as an acknowledgement that Advent exists to set the stage for the coming of Christ past, present, and future.

Of course, this isn't without its problems: it certainly sets the stage for liturgical whiplash (which is problematic since the pattern of the calendar is an essential component for its effectiveness) and breaks the ecumenical consensus just as much as the Rethink Christmas proposal does. And it plays into exactly the same hand.

So what do you think? Does celebrating Christmas "early," though in a different way from what Taylor proposes, deepen the cultural captivity for these college students? Or does it open up new possibilities for entering the mystery of the Incarnation?

Josh Hale is an ordained United Methodist elder in the Texas Annual Conference. He is appointed to extension ministry with the Wesley Student Center at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He microblogs @expatminister on Twitter. This is his first post for United Methodist Worship.

Image credit: by Kvitaluk as found on Wikimedia Commons, licensed by a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.