Reclaiming the Church Year

Sunday begins the season of Advent, and with it a new year in the Church's liturgical calendar.  Through the Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter seasons the Church centers its focus on the life of Christ, from his birth in Bethlehem to his sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension to glory.  At Pentecost, attention turns to the life of the Church and its mission to the world--proclaiming Christ's saving Gospel to a sinful race.

That this transition will go unobserved in many Christian churches is regrettable, not because Christianity entails certain holy days of obligation--as St. Paul writes, "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike"--but because the Church Year provides such a useful framework for the worship life of a Christian.  It directs and focuses one's meditations according to the historic pattern of the Church, and its rhythm of fasting and feasting imparts a helpful paradigm for the exercise of Christian disciplines.

The Church Year in much of American Protestantism has gradually deteriorated into the two-holiday minimalism of Christmas and Easter observances (and even those are apparently negotiable).  Both holidays are important, to be sure, but without the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent to precede them, these celebrations can't help but lose a bit of their luster.

Now please don't think I'm saying one can't meaningfully celebrate Christmas without Advent or Easter without Lent.  You can.  Just like we here in Southern California can meaningfully celebrate the arrival of Spring, even though our winter temps rarely drop below 50.  But as one who only recently escaped the bitter cold of Missouri winters, I can assure you a sunny, 67-degree March afternoon has an altogether different significance to the man who only days before was scraping ice off his windshield.

So tomorrow night is New Year's Eve according to the Church Year.  May I suggest a resolution?  Be mindful of the treasures the liturgical calendar has to offer.  Try orienting your prayer and worship life this year according to a pattern Christians for centuries have found meaningful.  You'll be in excellent company.

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Derek White

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