UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

At Issue

When to 'Fa-la-la'

By Michael Webster

Ministers know things that lay people don’t. We know these things because we are wise beyond imagining. Because we are exquisitely educated. And, oh yeah, because we are much, much closer to God than ordinary people are.

We know, for example, that change is not necessarily bad — it can often be a good thing, in fact, especially if it’s happening to other people.

We know that a church is not a business — and also that churches can learn from the business world about marketing and employment practices and transparent financial reporting.
We know that the church is larger than any one congregation. It breaks our hearts to see a faithful remnant pour their last nickel into a sinking ship, when their resources of money and energy could be put to use furthering the ministry of Jesus in some new and productive way.  

And here is something else that ministers know: the season of Christmas does not end on Dec. 25 — that’s when it begins. The month before Christmas is Advent, and those are the Sundays to sing Advent hymns. And behold! Voices United has 34 lovely Advent hymns. We couldn’t sing them all on the four Sundays of Advent if we tried.

Ministers know that it is wrong to sing carols about the birth of Jesus before we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It would be like singing Easter hymns on Good Friday, like planting tomatoes before Victoria Day, like showing up 20 minutes early for a dentist appointment, like . . . well, you get the idea.

And ministers know — or ought to know — that despite our ability to speak for God, lay people couldn’t give a darned sock about what we think. They love Christmas carols, and they don’t love Advent hymns, many of which — let’s face it — are too dreary to be played at a funeral.

I know it’s heresy, but what if lay people don’t need me to tell them what’s best for them? What if we sang Christmas carols when everybody except the minister wants to sing them and then stopped singing them just when we’re supposed to start? What if we did what we know to be wrong?

It’s the classic dilemma of the servant leader (or the leader servant, if you prefer): when to serve the people’s stated needs and when to tell them what their real needs are. Finding that balance is a constant struggle for me, and I usually err on the servant side of the equation.

For years, though, I insisted on singing three Advent hymns on each of the Sundays leading up to Christmas. I allowed one carol per week as a sop to those recalcitrant pew-sitters who stubbornly refused to sip from the fount of my sagacity. Advent dirges are good for us, I told them. Leaving Christmas music for Christmas builds anticipation and teaches patience, I said. Singing carols in mid-December is like opening your presents before Christmas, I insisted. And even though I knew these things because of my, you know, direct access to the throne of God, nobody cared.

Lately, I have given up the struggle. We sing Christmas carols all December, and I throw in the odd Advent hymn just for old times’ sake. It’s remarkable how much happier people are. It’s enough to make me wonder if maybe lay people know some things that ministers don’t.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image