When I worked for the Central Seminary Cokesbury bookstore, I soon learned the wisdom of having the Advent section well stocked by Labor Day. For many students beginning the Fall term, they thought it an odd sight with the seasonal books and resources (and Advent candles!) right beside the rows of textbooks soon to be purchased (and the professors prayed, read this term!).
Yet for the graduates now in their pulpit callings, the alumni gratefully returned to the seminary bookstore to stock up for Advent planning. For some, it was the first Advent they had to plan "solo" as ministers in small churches. For others, they arrived with the mandate from worship planning committees to try something different and novel for the Advent/Christmas season. And for a few, they just liked seeing what was new to the market this season in case a bright new set of liturgies, responsive readings, mini-dramas, sermon resources, etc., had arrived, ready to take their worship planning to new heights of creativity and inspiration.
And yes, Virginia, there would be some folks who called in a complete panic at the close of Friday business with the first Sunday of Advent that weekend, desperate for candles.
Advent planning is even more curious as the church sets up for Christmas by waiting. Last month, back to school shoppers found Christmas trees awaiting to entice early sales. Now the Halloween candy seems crammed in, with the Christmas garland at the ready to be the Kudzu of fall retail strategies. When radio stations are selling ads in anticipation of the lucrative programming change to "Christmas Music Around the Clock" just after Thanksgiving dinner table scraps are tucked away in the fridge, what possible enticement can there be for a group of people who say no thanks to singing a raft of Christmas carols for four straight weeks?
Instead, visitors will encounter a strange lot who read stories from Matthew's gospel this lectionary year, and it doesn't sound instantly like the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Cranky prophets will wilt the insta-Cheer most Americans associate with the time of year. They will hear more from the grown-up Jesus in the Advent lections before they will hear a cry coming from the manger.
It's a bizarre and contrary spectacle, this Advent season of waiting, watching and not rushing ahead.
Happy Advent planning!