The Church Calendar
Living the story of Jesus through the year.
Living the story of Jesus through the year.
During the four weeks prior to Christmas we celebrate a season called Advent. Advent is actually the beginning of the Church year, and it’s a gentle, reflective beginning. It’s a quiet season of fasting and contemplation leading up to our celebration of the birth of Jesus. The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” Just as Thanksgiving ends and the world around us begins decking the halls, Advent invites us to slow down, be still, and wait. Wait for what? For the coming, the advent, of the Lord.
As it happens, during Advent we contemplate three comings of our Lord. We wait for the birth of Jesus by remembering the stories of the prophets, John the Baptizer who prepared the way, and especially the Virgin Mary who pondered these things in her heart. We also wait for Jesus’ consummate coming as Lord and Judge, and we prepare ourselves to meet him through penitence, contemplation, and prayer. Finally, if we celebrate the first advent that happened 2000 years ago, and the final advent yet to come, we also celebrate an in-between coming of Jesus, the decidedly personal coming when he comes to each one of us, to you and me.
During Advent we light the candles of the Advent wreath, one for each of the four Sundays. In addition, we light a fifth candle in the center of the wreath, the Christ candle, when Christ is born in our hearts again on Christmas.
As we’re all watching for Christ may we thank our God, reflect on his grace, and bask in his goodness.
Every December 25th Christians begin celebrating the twelve days of Christmastide. But what with ornaments, Santa Claus, and presents, it can be easy to forget Christmas’ true meaning. The consumerism and harried pace we’re confronted with every year can sometimes make us glad just to get through it all!
But Christmas was never meant to cause such anxiety and greed. Christmas is about the gift God gave to the world, to you and me. Jesus Christ was born 2000 years ago in fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. The invitation of Christmas is to receive that blessing as we worship the child who grew up to die for the sin of the world.
Traditionally, the Church has celebrated three ways Christ has been born. First, eternally in the bosom of the Father. Second, naturally from the Virgin Mary’s womb. Third, mystically in the souls of all who put their faith in him.
As we celebrate the birth of our savior each year, may we all experience great joy and renewal as Christ is born anew in each one of us!
From Epiphany until Lent, we observe a part of the Christian year called Ordinary Time, which we count as weeks following Epiphany. During this time we continue with Epiphany’s theme and consider Jesus’ manifestation of himself as God. We see this manifestation especially in Jesus’ Baptism, his presentation in the temple, and his transfiguration. Focusing on Jesus’ identity in this way helps us learn how to go about living out our extraordinary faith, with its extraordinary history, in the worship of an extraordinary God, in our normal, every day, ordinary lives.
We also observe a second season of Ordinary Time from Pentecost until Advent, which we count as weeks following Pentecost. During this time we especially remember the lives and actions of Jesus’ followers. We think about how the first Christians lived their lives, and how we should live ours today.
This season of Ordinary Time takes up half the year and it doesn’t offer big exciting festivals such as Christmas or Easter. As a result, as one Sunday follows another, this season can begin to feel, well, ordinary.
There’s a good reason for this. The believers who developed our Christian calendar knew that following Jesus isn’t always a big party. Sometimes it’s long, hard, and even mundane. But they wanted to remind us that God still works in our lives during the regular times. After all, how ordinary is ordinary when God is in it?
This is the season that helps us figure out how to go about living out our extraordinary faith, with its extraordinary history, in the worship of an extraordinary God, in our normal, every day, ordinary lives.
Lent is the forty day period of preparation for Easter. It’s a season that emphasizes spiritual discipline such as fasting, almsgiving, and prayer as means of preparing our hearts for the celebration of the resurrection. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has said Lent is “a time to sweep and clean the room of our own lives and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.”
The English word ‘Lent’ comes from an early English word meaning to ‘lengthen’. Lent comes at a time when winter loosens its grip on the world, the days lengthen, and the promise of spring and new life is eagerly anticipated. And so it is with Lent, a time when we too can ‘lengthen’ spiritually, when we can stretch out and grow in the Spirit, as we await the resurrection.
Easter is the highpoint of the Christian year. After spending forty days fasting during Lent, we’re ready to feast, and with good reason! On Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the significance of which cannot be overstated.
This is the day that changed the course of history! An early liturgy says, “Christ has risen from the dead trampling down death by death.” In the resurrection Jesus defeated death itself! This means that followers of Jesus who have been united to him in his death, are assured of sharing in his resurrection. Because of this event death no longer gets to have the last word in our lives. Instead, resurrection does! For two thousand years this reality has given Christians confidence in the face of death. In fact, they’ve even mocked death along with the Apostle Paul, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
In addition to defeating death, Christ’s death and resurrection has also set us free from sin. This is a big deal since sin is the thing that puts us at odds with God and others. But again the Apostle Paul tells us that those who have been united to Christ in his death and resurrection can consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The barrier that condemned us to alienation from God and others has been destroyed! Because of the resurrection we’re no longer enemies of God. Instead, we’ve been reconciled to God and have become ministers of reconciliation. With such a triumph as the resurrection of Jesus, how could we keep from celebrating! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!
The day of Pentecost falls fifty days after Easter. Pentecost celebrates the fulfillment of God the Father's promise to pour out his spirit "on all flesh" (Joel 2:28). On this day we celebrate that the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus’ disciples in power. We also celebrate the truth that ever since Pentecost the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every follower of Jesus serving as a guarantee of our salvation, our counselor, an intercessor who prays to the Father on our behalf, a teacher who leads the Church into all truth, and one who makes us more and more like Christ even as he gives us power to live out our Christian faith. What an earth-shattering gift to have God himself dwelling in and among us!