If you have journeyed with us for a while, you’ve probably observed that we tell time in strange ways. For example, this Sunday is our ‘New Year’s Day’ as the liturgical year begins with Advent. (This is just one of the many ways we like to keep church weird.). But why does it matter that we orient around a church calendar and what do all these colours, readings, and seasons offer us?
The Liturgical year is the Church’s way of telling time that orients us to the life of Jesus and to the season of the year. Much of the Church follows a liturgical year that is ordered according to the life of Jesus and ordered primarily around two high feasts – that of the birth of Jesus and that of the resurrection (or re-birth) of Jesus! So it helps to think of the year divided not into 12 equal months but rather into two large Feasts to celebrate the coming of Jesus. And from that division it further moves out, as we explore the life of Christ through our days and seasons. How does this look in practice?
This week, Advent begins with the season of anticipation and expectation as we long for the coming of the promised one! As you enter worship over these next four weeks, we hope you come to dwell with us in these themes: longing and waiting/expectation, as we search for the light to break forth amidst the dark night of our confusion and pain. But this doesn’t just stay at the human level – we believe God has entered into our condition in the human one, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – and for the 12 days following.
The birth of Jesus is sometimes called ‘The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord’ – because the Church likes to use big language to underline these high feasts. I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble to tell you that December 25 was not likely the day Mary gave birth to Jesus. (And it was prob your parent who put the toonie under your pillow in exchange for a tooth!)
Some suggest the date of Dec 25 was arbitrarily chosen or imposed by imperial decree. And while it is certainly true that it was widely adopted as the festive date, as Adam English argues, its “observance sprang up organically from the authentic devotion of ordinary believers.” Scholars suggest that the earliest written evidence of Dec 25 comes from the Philocalian Calendar, written in 354 by Valentinus, a Roman Christian, indicating its widespread adoption well before the date of publication. Others point to the curious alignment of the Western Church calendar with the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere… in the darkness of winter (the shortest day being the solstice of Dec 21) we anticipate the coming of the Light. And as Spring is surrounding us with buds and blossoms, we celebrate the rising of new life up from the buried ground of the tomb with its stone rolled away.
Advent begins in this darkness of winter and anticipates the coming of the Light of the World. Christmas and Epiphany celebrate that light coming in the unexpected birth of Jesus. The readings from the Lectionary are organized around these seasons, to help us to learn to tell time around the coming of Christ. After Epiphany we soon move to Lent, and the 40 days of preparation leading up to our other principle Feast of Easter. Forty days after Easter we celebrate Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
For Advent this year, we will be adopting Blue*. Inscribing meaning to colours is a difficult and contextual practice and one we should discuss with care. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Blue was noted as the colour of the skies (and thus Heaven above in the ancient imagination) and it was instituted as the colour to be adorned both for the colour of the cords worn on the tassels of garments (to signify the unique identity of Israel) as well as the blue cloth that was to cover the Ark of the Covenant and the table of the bread of Presence. Together these function as the very meeting place of God with God’s people in the wilderness years.
And so here in Advent, we surround ourselves with Blue. The transcendent longing for heaven and the promise of God’s coming to meet us at the table with God’s very presence – through all our wilderness wandering. We embrace the mystery of our longing for God with us, Emmanuel, and we remind ourselves that life is not just oriented around the nine to five, but rather to the coming of this human one who showed us what God is like and bids us to come and follow. Happy new year folks!
*In past year’s we’ve used purple, a more traditional colour which reflects the Lenten season - noting that both were 40-day penitential seasons in their origins (Advent is shorter now). But we thought we would make it a little more ‘blue’ this year - in more ways than one.