Happy New Year!
HAPPY NEW YEAR! (on November 29th???)
Everyone recognizes the above phrase, most of you have said it, but you are probably wondering why those words would be the title for a November musing. Did Steve get his dates mixed up? What is he thinking?
I really am not as confused as it might seem. Most people identify New Years with January 1, when the new calendar year is launched. While this is true, there is another ‘new year’ that is initiated in the last weeks of November as well. This ‘new year’ is known in the Christian tradition as the Christian Year, or the Church Year.
The Christian Year celebrates / commemorates the saving events of God in Jesus Christ by marking those events in which God’s saving purposes were made known and carried out.
Many of us are aware of the major events of the Christian Year. The ‘biggies’ are Advent, Christmas, and Easter. While these are ‘biggies’, the Christian Year celebrates other significant events in Jesus’ life and ministry: Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, and also Ordinary Time, which extends from after Pentecost up until the next ‘new year’ at the first Sunday of Advent.
Perhaps you are not from a church tradition that celebrates the Christian year? Maybe you think that all this ‘church year stuff’ is just dry, rote, mundane activity that is devoid of real life? Or you might have experienced the Christian Year and found it either life giving or boring? No matter which group you fall into, I would like to challenge you to reconsider the concept of the Christian Year and the impact it can have upon your life.
The practice of the Christian Year has been carried on in the Church since the early centuries following Christ. It began with the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus and by the fourth century the celebration of the events of the Christian Year as we know it today was in place.
For those from a non-liturgical background the practice of the Church Year can seem rather foreign. The church where I co-pastor is very non-liturgical, and when we began to introduce the concept of celebrating the Christian Year it took some folks a bit of time to wrap their heads around the concept. Many of the folks in the church did not know that in the Church Year Easter is not just ‘a’ Sunday, the season of Easter is marked by a whole series of Sundays. Many of them had never heard of Ordinary Time. The wonderful thing is that having spent the past few years celebrating the Church Year, the congregation is beginning to grasp the concept and to engage it at a deeper level!
I could go on and describe in more detail the various seasons and feasts that make up the Christian Year, but instead of getting bogged down in those details, I would like to consider the practical impact observing the Church Year can have on our lives.
By entering into the Church Year, we are intentionally placing ourselves into the story of God and the incredible work of salvation he undertook in Christ. As each year unfolds we are immersed into God’s saving act in Jesus. We spend time each year being confronted by both the coming and ministry of Messiah. We intentionally prepare ourselves for the final week of his life by entering into the season of Lent. We walk with Jesus during that final week which ended in his death. We don’t skip over the immense difficulty and pain he faced during that time, but we enter into them with him. The high point of the Christian Year occurs on Easter morning as we rejoice in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We celebrate in the glow of Easter for a number of weeks until Pentecost arrives, and then we marvel at the giving of the Spirit to empower the Church in mission. The second half of the year, Ordinary Time, is lived out reflecting on how we, as God’s Spirit empowered people, are to live out our lives in light of all that God has done for us in Christ. How are we to enter into the ongoing work of God’s kingdom on the earth?
The truth is that engaging the story over and over again, year after year, KEEPS US IN THE STORY! It reminds us again and again of what God has done, it reminds us that we are a called and empowered people, it reminds us that our lives are filled with incredible purpose and meaning as we enter into the unfolding of God’s story.
Why is this ongoing reminder necessary? It is necessary because WE FORGET! We can easily get caught up in the hurry and busyness of our lives, trying to chase down the American Dream. We get distracted and we forget that we are a part of a story that is MUCH bigger than the American Dream. We are a part of God’s Dream for the entire planet! If you are at all like me, you recognize that you need to be reminded. Entering into the Christian Year can help remind us.
If your interest has been sparked by the concept of the Church / Christian Year, there are some resources listed below that can be of help to you on a personal level, even if your church does not celebrate the Church Year.
I pray that the final months of 2009 will be filled with the richness of God’s love and grace. And don’t forget, New Years happens on November 29!
Bobby Gross, Living The Christian Year, InterVarsity Press. This gives a good overview of the Church Year and also provides practical helps for entering into the year at a personal level.
Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series, Thomas Nelson. Just released by a good author and part of a good series! “It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until, eventually, we become what we say we are - followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God.” (Amazon.com)
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, Baker Books. A good summary of the Church Year and the various seasons and feasts.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, Ave Maria Press.
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