On my Facebook feed, one of the common items I'm seeing is lately folks commenting on the arrival of Christmas displays in various retail outlets. Usually, the comments are uniformly negative ... something similar to "it's way too early for Christmas", cloaked in the usual condemnation of businesses treating Christmas as yet another profit-making opportunity. This will continue on for the next couple of months ... especially in November, when one of the local radio stations switches to all-Christmas music in November, much to the public distress of folks who need their daily Kings of Leon installment.
And then, once Christmas season "officially" begins on Thanksgiving morning (that irony has been lost long ago), many of the same folks will start complaining that those Christmas displays aren't orthodox enough --- especially as it relates to actually to wishing customers "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" or whatever.
It strikes me that, as happens in so many ways in our culture, we are welcoming Jesus into our world --- but only on our own terms. Jesus is welcome, but he can't arrive before we say so. When he does arrive, we can only use selected words to talk about him. And once January rolls around, we need to put him back into his box as soon as possible, so that we can get on with our well-ordered lives.
It would be too easy to condemn our culture for the way it treats the coming of Jesus. But this is hardly new. The first coming of Jesus was accompanied by hundreds of years of prophecy, a unique astrological event, and extraterrestrial contact with humanity. And the only people who noticed were an unwed couple, some migrant farm workers, and a group of professors from some foreign university. Once the establishment did notice, the official reaction was to commit an act of genocide --- because the arrival of Jesus didn't fit into the official narrative. (Not that the adult Jesus fit into the dominant narrative any better.)
In August, when I was substituting as music director at our church, our lead pastor preached a sermon on joy. I decided to end the service by having the congregation sing "Joy To The World" --- even though it was decidedly out-of-season. After the service, one of the congregants came up to me and said "You know .... that song really doesn't really have anything to do with Christmas, does it?" Ah, but we can only sing carols during Advent.
Come, thou long expected Jesus ... but only when I say so.