The "War on Christmas" theme can get a little carried away at times.  Come 2014, our various "War on ____" themes, as a whole category, are stretching quite thin.  So it was enjoyable to read Mollie Ziegler Hemmingway poking fun at both, writing a column regarding the "War on Advent" (appropriately out-of-season, too, since she wrote it a month and a half ago and Advent just started this past Sunday).  Amidst the jest, there is a serious point.  Can the rhetoric about the "War on Christmas" actually undermine Christian devotion?

Hemmingway, a fellow member of an LCMS congregation, is not the first to use the phrase "War on Advent."  Diana Butler Bass appropriated the term two years ago to attack FOX news.  Bass' column was weakened by her poor understanding of Advent.  Bass started with a good point, that much of what gets reported under "War on Christmas" has to do with salesmanship and not any faithful Christian celebration of Christmas.  But she missed the joyous expectancy of Advent, shifting what God promised to do into a call for us to fight- you guessed it- the political "War on Poverty." (This political cause is not identical with the Christian Church's mandate and ongoing effort to help the poor.)

Hemmingway's piece expands on where Bass was heading right, while leading us to question the whole "War on Christmas" theme.  Hemmingway begins with a nod to traditional "War on Christmas" themes.  She writes, "The silliest way we 'War on Christmas' is in public schools, where we sing songs about every religion's seasonal holiday--some of which don't even take place any time near Dec. 25, and then refuse to sing any of the gazillion awesome religious songs about Christmas."  Then, she pivots to a repository of additional awesome religious devotion, Advent.

Let's step aside for a bit to define these liturgical seasons.  The feast of the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas, is December 25.  The "Christmas season" in the liturgical calendar is the twelve days from December 25 until Epiphany, January 6.  That is the "twelve days of Christmas" you know of "five golden rings" fame, a time for feasting and unabashed celebration.  Advent is a season of pentitential preparation before Christmas, much like Lent is a penitential season preparing for Easter.  Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.  You see these four Sundays marked by four candles on an Advent wreath.  Advent does not only focus on Jesus' first humble coming, born a baby in a manger, but also his second coming in glory to judge the world and bring His people into His eternal kingdom of glory.  So Advent mixes both introspective penitence and hopeful joy.  We are penitential, considering how Jesus was humbled to save us.  We are joyful because God is with us graciously.  We are penitential, considering that there will be a judgment at the end of time.  We are joyful because Jesus tells us to lift up our heads and know our redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28).

Here are Hemmingway's first three recommendations for "fighting" the war on Advent:

1) Advent is for preparation. Christmas is for partying. So that means Christmas parties should take place during Christmas. Christmas parties should not take place during Advent. You get 12 full days when hardly anyone is working to party all you want. Use them.

2) If you’re going to throw a secular party about sleigh bells ringing, don’t bother calling it a Christmas party. Christmas parties celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God. Your candy cane festival detached from anything tangibly related to God is not going to be hurt by being called a holiday hoe-down, ok?

3) If you are going to host a ‚ÄúChristmas‚ÄĚ party during Advent, be mindful that many traditional Christians go to Advent services on Wednesdays. So pick a different day of the week for your glutton-fest during a time ostensibly set aside for fasting and prayer. (Feel free at this point to mentally imagine Dana Carvey doing a Church Lady riff on the similarities in the names ‚ÄėSanta‚Äô and ‚ÄėSatan.‚Äô)

It's that second point that Bass was also trying to get at.  And not just Bass.  Charles Schulz' A Charlie Brown Christmas has been making this same point delightfully for nearly half a century.  The commercialization of Christmas is its own co-opting of Christmas, especially when "Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!" is blaring as a way to encourage material acquisition.  If Target stops using the word "Christmas" in their marketing, why complain?  On the other hand, businesses and groups that are happy to use the word "Christmas" use it in disturbing ways.  Walmart is trending badly, for example, from 2013's promise that they could get you "more Christmas for your dollar" to 2014's "Merry Techmas and happy new gear."  Both messages present "Christmas" as a day you get fleeting stuff, which, sadly enough, is all the day is for many people.

I think, in fact, rather than there being an actual "war on Advent" you see more and more Christians without liturgical backgrounds interested in somehow pracitcing Advent.  The nondenominational Bible app, YouVersion, features "Christmas and Advent" reading plans.  Advent is a "featured topic" at ChristianityToday.com, with several approving articles to browse.

Hemmingway's point, I believe since it is not stated outright but runs as an undercurrent through the piece, is that indulging the appetite for "War on Christmas" rhetoric isn't going to help you celebrate not just THE season, but the seasons of Advent and Christmas.  This is why Bass' piece went wrong.  She was caught in the warfare mindset, warring against FOX.  The warfare mindset drains joy.  The warfare mindset does not help me be introspectively penitential since it focuses on outside enemies.

A hope that Christ has won the battle, that His kingdom is coming, restores and uplifts our joy.  A hope that He comes "meek and mild" frees me to admit my sins.  The hope of Advent prepares the way for full Christmas joy.  The great Advent hymn declares it:  "Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to you, O Israel!"