Following the lead of secular culture, many Christians place Christmas as the most important day in the Christian year. This article suggests that a more profound understanding of Christmas arises out of an awareness of the history of the Christian year. Christmas should be understood in light of the events which follow—Epiphany and, eventually, Easter.
Advent worship involves both penitence and joy, moods that can be conveyed by the visual environment of the worship space. Adapt the following suggestions to local custom.
Advent is a penitential season, calling us to both personal and corporate repentance. Acts of confession and lament are appropriate not only for personal wrongdoing but also for the evil principalities and powers that pervade our culture.
The history of Advent teaches us a great deal about its meaning and prepares us to observe this time with reverence and understanding. This history reveals the simultaneous importance of both penitence and hope, of both remorse and rejoicing.
Colors of the various seasons of the Christian year express the mood or feeling of the season. The following outline presents the colors most often associated with Christian seasons.
Worship leaders and planners from many traditions have been working toward a consensus or ecumenical approach to the Christian year, resulting in the following outline of the year-long calendar.
The way Christians keep time is a way of remembering. In communal worship, we remember and celebrate the events that make us who we are. Consequently, the celebration of the Christian year forms us into Christ’s body in the world.
The resurrection of the crucified Christ is the point on which the weekly and annual cycles of the Christian calendar turn. In fact, it supplies the clue to the whole history of salvation and indeed the cosmos. Every Sunday and every Easter day is a commemoration and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and an anticipation of the day when the same Lord will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and finally establish God’s universal kingdom.
In the first centuries A.D. the cycle of Christian time grew out of the conviction that all-time finds its meaning in the death and resurrection of Christ. Thus the early Christians, beginning with the paschal event, extended the Christian calendar forward to Pentecost and backward to Lent and Holy Week. Later, in the fourth century, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany were developed to complete the cycle.
Many churches that have rejected the practice of the Christian year follow the secular way of marking time. This article describes some of the “calendars” that churches use to mark time and points out some of the problems with the observance of civil occasions in particular. It is written from a Reformed perspective but will be useful to churches in any tradition.