A Cycle of Light, A Cycle of Life: The Christian Calendar
We all mark time in various ways: birthdays, anniversaries or cultural festivals. The Old Testament Israelites have their religious festivals. Christians too have a way to mark time: the Christian calendar. We should return to our roots and use the Christian calendar to mark time with Jesus.
1. Introduction: Marking Time
Do you get the feeling that time is moving faster and faster? Didn’t we just finish Christmas? And now it is coming to the end of January. How do we mark time? We all mark time with the minutes and hours by our watch, and the days by our calendars. Our calendars show us the months. We used to have paper calendars but now they are electronic on our PDA and computers. They even beep to remind us of important appointments. What other ways do we mark time?
• School days and school holidays especially the exam period
• Festivals: Chinese New Year
• Annual and performance bonus days
• Family events: birth, death, children graduating
• Vacation time
We often mark time in relation to what is important to us. How many days to our payday? How many days until school ends and the holidays begin? How many days to the examinations? We normally mark time to something that is coming than time for something happening. If we examine the way we mark time we will discover what is really important to us (not what we say is important) and what our lives revolve around.
2. The Jewish Way of Keeping Time: Religious Festivals
God knows how important marking time is. So he gave the Old Testament Israelites a way to mark time – religious festivals. These religious festivals were related to Temple worship. And temple worship reminded the people of Yahweh, their God. Hence their whole year revolved round their religious festivals. There were daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly festivals, and great stress was laid on the regular observance of them in every particular one. During three major festivals or feasts, every male in the family have to go to Jerusalem. This meant planning for the journey. So the ancient Israelites mark time by remembering how many days to the Feast of the Tabernacles or how long were after Pentecost.
(1.) The regular festivals were,
(a) The weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23:1–3; Ex. 16:23–29; 20:8–11; 31:12, etc.).
(b) The seventh new moon, or the feast of Trumpets (Num. 28:11–15; 29:1–6).
(c) The Sabbatical year (Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 25:2–7).
(d) The year of jubilee (Lev. 25:8–16; 27:16–25).
(2.) The great feasts were,
(a) The Passover.
(b) The feast of Pentecost (of weeks).
(c) The feast of Tabernacles (of ingathering).
On each of these occasions every male Israelite was commanded “to appear before the Lord” (Deut. 27:7; Neh. 8:9–12). The promise that God would protect their homes (Ex. 34:23, 24) while all the males were absent in Jerusalem at these feasts was always fulfilled.
“During the whole period between Moses and Christ we never read of an enemy invading the land at the time of the three festivals. The first instance on record is thirty-three years after they had withdrawn from themselves the divine protection by imbruing their hands in the Saviour’s blood, when Cestius, the Roman general, slew fifty of the people of Lydda while all the rest had gone up to the feast of Tabernacles, A.D. 66.”
These festivals, besides their religious purpose, had an important bearing on the maintenance among the people of the feeling of a national unity. The times fixed for their observance were arranged so as to interfere as little as possible with the industry of the people.
(a)The Passover was kept just before the harvest commenced,
(b)Pentecost at the conclusion of the corn harvest and before the vintage,
(c)the feast of Tabernacles after all the fruits of the ground had been gathered in.
(3.) The Day of Atonement
The tenth day of the seventh month (Lev. 16:1, 34; 23:26–32; Num. 29:7–11). The great annual day of humiliation and expiation for the sins of the nation, “the fast” (Acts 27:9), and the only one commanded in the law of Moses. It was kept on the tenth day of the month Tisri, i.e., five days before the feast of Tabernacles, and lasted from sunset to sunset.
In the Old Testament, the concept of sacred time became a vehicle for teaching the faith (for example, Exodus 12-13).
3. The Christian Way of Keeping Time: The Christian Calendar
When we think of the Christian church year, most of us think only of Christmas and Easter. We joke about some Christians as CEO Christians. They attend church on Christmas and Easter Only. The observance of the seasons of the church year has a long history in the life of the Christian Faith. When most of the people in the church were poor and had no access to education, the church festivals and the cycle of the church year provided a vehicle for teaching the story of God and his actions in human history. Planned and purposeful observance of the Christian seasons and festivals can become an important tool for education and discipleship in the Faith, as well as a vehicle for spiritual growth and vitality. Now, before you shut your mind and think of the Christian calendar as only a Catholic calendar, let me introduce you to some protestant churches that follow the calendar:
As a congregation moves through the church calendar, they are presented in an organized way with the opportunity to talk about, reflect upon, and respond to the entire range of faith confessions that lie at the heart of the Christian Faith. This is important, not only for the vitality of the whole community, but especially for children to become aware in the context of community celebration those things that are important to their Faith (Deut 6:20-25).
The Christian calendar is organized around two major centers of Sacred Time: A cycle of Light: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany; and a cycle of life: Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, concluding at Pentecost. The rest of the year following Pentecost is known as Ordinary Time, from the word "ordinal," which simply means counted time (First Sunday after Pentecost, etc.). Ordinary Time is used to focus on various aspects of the Faith, especially the mission of the church in the world.
(1) A Cycle of Light (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany)
Season of Advent (Dec 3 - Dec 24, 2006)
Advent (coming) 4 Sundays. Christ's first and second coming- thanksgiving and anticipation.
[Repent and be ready for the second coming of the Lord. Allow for the Messiah to be birthed in your heart.]
Season of Christmas (Dec 25, 2006 - Jan 5, 2007)
Nativity of the Lord
Christmas day 25th December
The Twelve Days of Christmas (Dec 25, 2006 - Jan 5, 2007) Celebration of Christ's birth
[Embrace the incarnation. Let Christ be born within you in a new way]
The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany on January 6th rather than Christmas. Historically, the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th started after the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine at the beginning of the 4th century AD. During his reign, the traditional pagan festival which took place at the winter equinox in celebration of the sun god was replaced by the commemoration of the birth of Christ. Christmas is not a pagan festival but the Christian festival that replaced it. It is unlikely that December 25th accurately reflects the birth of Christ which is generally thought to be around springtime in the Western hemisphere (March-April). Practically it would be difficult to celebrate both Christ's birth and death at the same time.
Season of Epiphany (Ordinary Time) (Jan 6 - Feb 20, 2007)
Epiphany of the Lord (Jan 6, 2007)
After Epiphany (Jan 7- Feb 20)
About 8 weeks God manifest in Christ. The manifestation of Christ as a savior, not only to the Jews but to all of mankind.
[make commitment for Christ to be manifested in your life]
Baptism of the Lord
Signs and wonders
Transfiguration: The glory of the Lord revealed.
Christ in his ministry as he manifest to all that he is the Son of God.
[learn to manifest Christ through the witness of life and deeds]
(2) A Cycle of Life (Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost)
Season of Lent (Feb 21 - April 7, 2007)
Passion Week/Holy Week
A time to travel with Jesus toward his death. Although under constant attacks, he ministers to the crowd.
[Time for Repentance]
The suffering of Christ
[Lent is a time for repentance through self-examination and renewal through identification with the journey of Jesus. A time for prayer, fasting and almsgiving]
Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem
The Last Supper, Gethsemane, betrayal, arrest and trial
The Crucifixion-death of Christ
Season of Easter (April 9-May 27, 2007)
Day of Pentecost (April 8, 2007)
Season After Pentecost (Ordinary Times) (May 28 - December 1, 2007)
Reign of Christ or Christ the King About 25 weeks
The importance of the Church calendar is that it provides a coherent way of telling the Christian story throughout the year in a way that reinforces what we believes and provides opportunity to proclaiming these truths to others.
4. Lessons for us
(1) Remembering the Life of Christ our Lord
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
How do we know God?
• Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ is the incarnate God. What this means is that God became a human being. We cannot see God who is spirit and invisible. We can see his handiwork which is creation. For God himself, we can look at Jesus and see him. That is why the gospels are so precious because the gospels gave us a lot of details about the life of Jesus Christ. As we study the life of Christ, we come to know God himself. And what is more wonderful is that as we immerse ourselves in the life of Christ, we become one with him, being given a taste of his divine name.
Have you ever being so engrossed in a movie, so identified with the main character that you flinch when he or she get hurt and feel pain when his or her heart was broken?
That is what entering into the life of Christ entails. It is being identified with Christ in his life and death.
Martin Luther wrote,
“In his life Christ is an example, showing us how to live;
In his death he is sacrifice, satisfying our sins;
In his resurrection, a conqueror;
In his ascension, a king;
In his intercession, a high priest.”
The Christian calendar takes us through the life of Christ once a year. You know what they say about acquiring a skill? Repetition, repetition, repetition. So being repetitively involved in the life of Christ makes us Christlike.
(2) Refocusing on the Work of Christ our Lord (The Eighth Day)
How many days are there in a week? 7 days or 8 days? God created the work in six days and he rested on the seventh. Then on Sunday, on the eighth day, Jesus was resurrected and God began his work of re-creation. So there are 8 days in a week and we are in the 8th day. The Christian calendar reminds us that we are working together with God in a mission to redeem creation. That is our calling and purpose. There is a six month period after Pentecost called ordinary times. This is the period to remind us of the work of the church. This is the period of our work with God.
2 Cor. 4: 4-6
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Being focused on the life reminds us of his mission. Christ is here on the eighth day to redeem a fallen creation. There is a new word being used nowadays- MISSIONAL. What is means is to align your mind, your heart and your life to God’s purpose. God’s purpose is to redeem his fallen creation. The word comes out of the emergent/emerging church movement. This is a group of Christians who is reexamining how to ‘do church’ and ‘be church’ in the 21st century in the midst of iPod, Internet, mp3, post modern and interconnected digital world.
(3) Recentering the Worship of Christ our Lord
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
We need to be reminded again and again that Christ is our center. Christ is our center because he is the fulfillment of all the promises made to us by God. He is the head of the church. Another metaphor is that the church is the body of Christ. As such, we need to continually refocus on him who deserves to be worshipped. We have a tendency to stray, to follow after false gods.
We all mark time in various ways: birthdays, anniversaries or cultural festivals. The Old Testament Israelites have their religious festivals. Christians too have a way to mark time: the Christian calendar. We should return to our roots and use the Christian calendar to mark time with Jesus. This will continuously help us to
• Remember the Life of Christ our Lord
• Refocus on the Work of Christ our Lord
• Recenter our Worship of Christ our Lord
Soli Deo Gloria