To all those who read my sermons on this blog, I must apologize, for I have lost not one, but two sermons to the computer gods this past week. I had written two different sermons for last Sunday, as I was preaching at St. Paul’s in the morning, and at our joint Advent worship at Zion Baptist in the evening. But that morning, my computer (several computers, actually) refused to open my morning sermon, telling me it was a “corrupted file.” Even the college student I asked for help told me there was no hope.
Thankfully, the computer was willing to open the sermon for Zion Baptist, so I simply used that one for both occasions. But on Monday morning, when it came time to put it up on the blog—another corrupted file. Which left me without a blog entry for this week! Which meant a great opportunity to return to a more topical blog post, instead of just my sermon for the week.
I’m going to try to be more regular about non-sermon posting. It’s a great creative outlet for me—I love to write, and it’s always fun to write when you don’t necessarily have to (like for sermons and newsletter articles). If you have a topic you’d like hear about, let me know! Now, on to the topic for today, the liturgical year:
At St. Paul’s, we recently tried a new service for Reign of Christ Sunday. Sometimes called Christ the King Sunday, this is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, before we begin again on the First Sunday of Advent. So this year, we had a service of readings and hymns that walked us through the church year, starting in Advent and moving through each season until we reached Ordinary Time in the summer. Because of the time constraints of our service, we weren’t able to hit all of my favorite festivals, like Reformation and All Saints’, but we did cover a lot.
Often people have questions about the church year: who created it? Is it in the Bible? Isn’t it just co-opting pagan festivals? Isn’t it Catholic? The short answers are: lots of people, sort of, sort of, and yes in the “little c” sense!
The cycle of the church year is shaped by the life of Jesus, so in a lot of ways it is biblical. It marks Jesus’ birth, ministry, trial, death, and resurrection, and teaching. It has also grown over thousands of years and has been influenced by things like the natural seasons (at least for the Northern hemisphere), the festivals of pre-Christian traditions, and the holy days of the Jewish calendar. It is used by the Roman Catholic Church, but also by Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and so many more. It is something that can tie us together across denominational lines.
To me the church year is like inhaling and exhaling. It is a rhythm so deep that we often don’t notice it’s happening. We begin in darkness and hope-filled longing in Advent, then rejoicing as one, then two and three and four, and suddenly a multitude of lights fills our existence. We begin Lent in winter barrenness, watching for signs of life that overflow at Easter. Through the long summers’ green seasons, we too grow and learn about being Jesus’ disciples.
Advent in particular has always captured my imagination. It is filled with ritual: lighting the candles, singing the ancient song of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Hearing John the Baptist call upon us to prepare the way of the Lord. Longing for God’s presence to be made more real in my life and in the life of the world.
We often speak of our longing as longing for light. This makes sense in the brief, sometimes dim, winter daylight in the Northern hemisphere. Romans celebrated the Feast of the Unconquered Sun during this season, and the Celts the winter solstice bonfires. The Jewish people light he menorah during this time to celebrate the continuing light of their faith. And Christians light the four Advent candles, increasing in radiance over the dark weeks. To long for light is to long for illumination, for our true selves to be made visible. To long for light is to long for transformation, to be renewed in the refiner’s fire.
Over the centuries, Christians have celebrated three Advents: the past coming of Christ born in Bethlehem, the present coming of Christ in the sacramental meal, and the future coming of Christ at the completion of all things. As a child, I longed for the baby Jesus and for my own delight in Christmas morning. As we grow, we long for different things: God’s presence in the here and now, God’s light to illumine all creation and to lead our hearts in justice and peace.
We never enter the church’s year of grace as the same person we were twelve months ago. It is always new, and yet it is always the same. Breathe in, breath out. Let the year flow around you. Let its patterns center you as your life moves and flows. And know God rules over all our days.