Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Themes of Adventtide

Sundays are the ‘basic’ holiday of the Christian Calendar. On this day, we re-live (in an abbreviated way) all of the Themes we've talked about. In my church, the liturgy has been carefully designed (over hundreds of years) to reflect the path of the Christian Story. Sunday contains a mini-version of the entirety of the Christian Calendar. As such, Sunday is the primary holiday for Christians.

During Advent, each Sunday is assigned a specific theme to further the scope of the Season. The order of these Themes actually varies from tradition to tradition and even some within traditions. While the order shifts, the Themes themselves are surprisingly universal. The Advent Wreath has one candle for each of the Sundays, and each candle takes a name from these Sundays. During the week, specific commemorations from various traditions have been chosen to highlight the theme of that week.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Prologue: Stir-Up... Monday?

I am thoroughly ashamed: I actually missed the very first marked day on the Calendar. I would like to say that I vow to never do this again over the next year, but I know that would be an empty promise. In some ways, it’s fitting, since my tardiness with this post can serve as a reminder that I will probably be late more often than early!

Why a scheduled post before the beginning of the Year? You will, of course, remember that Adventtide, the first proper Season of the Year, doesn’t actually start until 1 December. Nevertheless, I thought I would borrow a folk-tradition from England as a means of helping me to prepare to begin the new Year.

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the old Year, which is also Christ the King Sunday. In the old days, before Christ the King was an official festival (and it is fairly new as the Calendar goes), the Sunday before Advent was called Stir-Up Sunday in traditionally Anglican countries.


Friday, November 22, 2013

The Value of Adventtide

Adventtide, the Season of waiting, begins in the Western Rite on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. This year, that Sunday is also 1 December, which makes my OCD part very happy: The Christian Year begins right at the beginning of the month!

Sadly, Advent has almost completely been erased from most Western cultures’ observances and replaced with pre-emptive Christmas celebrations. The goal of Advent is to live in waiting – it is a time of anticipation and desire for the coming Season of Christmas and, more importantly for the Person of Christ. Unsurprisingly, our commercialized, instant gratification-centred culture has simply run roughshod over Advent in favour of an instant Christmas. The result is that Christmas trees are hauled out right after Halloween and Christmas music declaring, ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’ begin playing on the radio the day after Thanksgiving (if we’re lucky! I started boycotting one of my local Christian radio stations after they started in on the Christmas music in early November).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Seasons of the Calendar

The Christian Calendar in its basic form has been around since at least the 4th century and possibly as early as the 2nd. However, it is really a reflection of the original Jewish Calendar, and most of the major holidays are a direct Christian fulfilment of those Old Testament feasts, and so its roots are much older than the 2nd century.

There is some disagreement between Eastern and Western dates for the moveable holidays (although the non-moveable holidays are universally agreed upon). In the West, most major Protestant denominations retained the use of the Christian Calendar after the Reformation except for the various Anabaptist sects (who did retain portions of it). It is an official tradition in all Eastern traditions as well as Roman Catholicism (and any other form of Western Catholicism), Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism (including the Church of England and other Anglican bodies), Methodism, and the various Reformed Churches (Dutch, French, Swiss, etc.).

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Confession

Each of the Themes I discussed in my previous post tends to resonate with some people more than others. That’s natural. The Christian Story is not one primarily of or for individuals but of God with Himself and illustrated with His relationship with the entire race of humanity. It makes sense why individual humans may primarily experience or emphasise one or two of those Themes and may have no understanding of some of the others – we are much too finite to possibly get all of God!

Whole religions, philosophies, cultures, and civilisations have been built on the recognition of some of these Themes at the expense of others. Even Christianity at times has chosen to highlight or ignore selected Themes. This is one of the reasons it is important to live in community, not just with those in our own home or culture, but with the holy, apostolic Church throughout the world and through the ages. We have our personal themes, and it is not wrong to have them. But we must realise that our own lives and themes are only a small bit, perhaps only one short note, in the grand Symphony.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Just What Exactly Is The Christian Calendar? Part II

Most Christians are familiar with bits of the Christian calendar: Advent, Christmas, Holy Week, Easter. Oh, and there are a few Feast Days everyone knows about too: St. Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day...

However, the Christian Calendar is more than a collection of disparate holidays. It is a flowing of seasons, sub-seasons, octaves, tridiuums, holy days, feast days, and days of solemnity which flow in and out of one another. The Calendar is a Story; each section is designed to connect with all the others and create a Narrative. The Narrative is itself centred around the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, and the Person and Work of Christ are designed themselves to be an insight into the very Heart of God as He exists in His Triune Nature throughout all of eternity.

Thus the Christian Calendar is designed to be a pattern of life in which we can peek into the Heart of God. The themes that the Calendar suggests we live in are the themes of the Christian Story. They are not just found in the Story of Christ but throughout all of Scripture, all of history, all of Christian philosophy, all of Christian psychology, all of Christian sociology, all of Christian art, all of Christian theology, and all throughout every aspect of Creation.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Just What Exactly Is The Christian Calendar? Part I

We’re off on a journey through the Christian Calendar. Great! But what exactly IS the Christian Calendar? Come to think of it, what is a Calendar?

A Calendar is more than a calendar. That is, it’s more than just the passing of 365 days broken up into 12 months and 52 weeks, or days marked by the passing of moons.

A Calendar is a method of measuring one’s time, to be sure, but it also dictates how one passes one’s time. In many regions of the world, the Calendar is set up around harvesting crops. It dictates when preparation is to be done, when work is to be done, and when rest is to be taken. In the most agrarian communities, it also dictates when prayer to a deity or deities should be offered. A Calendar may include weekly and/or monthly rituals, as in the Jewish and Muslim Calendars, but they always include yearly rituals that are marked out in Seasons. It is the nature of a Calendar to dictate, to control.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Invitation To A Journey

I've been fascinated by the Christian Calendar for years. As a child, my family celebrated Thanksgiving, Advent, and Holy Week in ways that spoke of something much deeper than palm branches, Easter bunnies, presents, and turkey dinners. These were times of family closeness, rich traditions, serious contemplation, engaging with Jesus Himself, and opening our home to others in our community.

In high school, I was introduced to Lent through a friend. The idea of giving up something for 40 days in recognition of Christ’s self-deprivation in the desert somehow clicked with me. Since my family had always celebrated Advent, it seemed appropriate to have a corollary for Easter. In the past 15 years, Lent has been as superficial as giving up chocolate or caffeine to truly using the time to clean the clutter and sin out of my life.