Thursday, December 24, 2009

Come Along, Inspector Jesus?

When my youngest son was still quite small, he loved the Advent hymn, "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus."  We think he loved it in part because he loved the movie "Inspector Gadget," and he thought the words were "Come Along, Inspector Jesus."  (We had several such mis-hearings of hymns, it turns out.  Another favorite was the second line of "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," which my son heard not as "Let me to thy bosom fly" but "Let me chew thy apple pie." I think of apple pie as a gift from God, so I have no problem with this.)

I'm not sure why, but this year I've been more conscious than ever of Advent.  It seems that everywhere I go I hear Christmas music during Advent, which has been striking me like Christmas carols on the fourth of July - a confusion of holidays.  Liturgical calendars have left a shadow-impression of themselves on cultural calendars, but much of their detail has been lost.  Who celebrates Pentecost, for instance?  Yet it used to be one of the most important of Christian holidays.  Christmas and Easter are great gift-giving holidays, but Lent's main appearance seems to be in Mardi Gras.

I don't plan to be a curmudgeon about this, and lament that we've lost the "good old days" of piety and that today's culture is somehow more degenerate than yesterday's.  I'm quite fond of today, actually.  (It's where I live, after all!)  I don't dislike being wished a "Merry Christmas" in Advent any more than I disliked hearing my son sing "Come along, Inspector Jesus!"  (And no, I don't mind being wished "Happy Holidays" either.  Anyone who wants to wish me well on any given day is always welcome to do so!)

But I do think that it's worth revisiting old ideas to see if we've "mis-heard" them.  For myself, it has been a delight to be in Advent this year.  When I've heard Christmas carols (as early as November!) I've tried to think of Advent hymns instead.  The result has been that I've been nurturing the pleasure of expectation and anticipation, and, now that Christmas is upon us, singing those Christmas hymns is going to be a real treat.

However you celebrate these days, whether you distinguish Advent from Christmas and Epiphany, or celebrate Christmas from Hallowe'en to Mardi Gras, or if you just finished celebrating Hanukkah, or are enjoying some other holiday, I wish you all the best that holiday has to offer.  And if you celebrate no holy-days, but are only having some time off, I wish you good rest in that.  And for all of us, I wish us good hearing, joy in mis-hearings, and better ears to hear in the future.


  1. I am a curmudgeon about this sort of thing (you can ask Jen!). At our church, there has been a cognitive disconnect when the pastor gives a great sermon on the need for waiting, and then we sing "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing" or "Joy to the World." Christmas hymns in Advent are kind of like singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" on the third Sunday of Lent...

  2. The mis-reading of hymn lyrics was a proud tradition in my household. I particularly recall my brother belting out "Bread and Butter" instead of "Bread of Heaven" while sitting in the acolyte chair. We re-wrote a number of classic hymns, perhaps my favorite being "Rock of Ages fell on me/bruised my hip and broke my knee..."