Living into the Christian Year

By the Rev. Kristen Yates

Last week on my church’s blog, I began a series of posts speaking about the rhythmic nature of the Christian life, and so today, I am including my latest post for my church here: I would like to specifically talk about the Christian Calendar.  I am not going to go into the history per se of its creation and adoption, but I will:

  • briefly outline the nature of each season,
  • explain why I believe the calendar is a helpful aspect of our spiritual formation,
  • and give you some ways to engage the calendar in your walk with Christ.

The Seasons

For a great overview video of the seasons, check this out:  

Advent, the first season, begins in December and consists of 4 Sundays which lead up to Christmas.  The season of Advent is characterized by longing, waiting, and hope as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus and as we wait for his Second Coming.  Because we reflect on the injustices of the world and the things that are not right in our life, Advent is actually a penitential season, and thus the color of the season is purple.   The character of this season certainly stands in contrast to the extended Christmas season that our culture pushes, but by walking through Advent, we are much more prepared to truly enter into the full joy and celebratory nature of Christmas.

Christmas, the second season whose color is white, occurs over a period of twelve days starting on December 25th, and is the time of year we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  It is a truly joyous time of feasting and celebration, and because it a season that holds such Good News, it is good for Christians to find ways to keep the celebration going for its whole length.  

Epiphanytide, the third season whose color is green (also considered part of Ordinary Time), begins on January 6th, the Epiphany, the day when we recall the Magi finally arriving in Bethlehem to bring their gifts to Jesus.  The word epiphany means an unveiling, a revealing, and so during this season of the Christian calendar, we spend time reflecting on the nature of God, allowing the Scriptures to reveal Jesus in his fullness. For Jesus was more than a good man who came to earth, but he was in fact God-made-flesh who came to this world to redeem it.  

Lent, the fourth season, is a one that lasts 40 days, echoing the 40 days that the Israelites were in the desert and the 40 days that Jesus was tempted in the desert.  It is a penitential season leading up to Easter; thus again, its color is purple. During this season, we reflect deeply on the ways we fail to love God and neighbor and how we turn from God, disobeying him and embracing life choices that are in stark contrast to God’s good designs and desires for us.   It is a season of penitence, letting go, abstinence, self-reflection, confession, and prayers for God’s forgiveness and help.  It is by walking through Lent that we are able to grasp the full meaning and joy of the Easter season that follows it. 

Easter, the fifth season whose color is white, is the longest season of the Christian Calendar (that is excluding Ordinary Time).  It lasts for 50 whole days, starting on Easter Sunday, which is the most important day in the entire year.  During Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the redemption of the world.  Since the Resurrection of Jesus is the greatest news the world has ever seen, it necessitates that the Church engage in an extended time of feasting and celebrating.

Pentecost, the sixth season whose color is red, follows on the heels of Easter and takes up the story of the Church.  Whereas the first five seasons focused on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the season of Pentecost focuses on the life of the Church.  It begins with Pentecost Sunday, which commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers so that they might go forth into the world, extending God’s Good News to the ends of the earth.  During Pentecost, we remember who we are in Christ, how God has empowered us, and how we are to be sent out into the world to be Jesus’ hands and feet.

Ordinary Time, the final season, whose color is green, wraps up the Christian calendar and lasts until the beginning of a new Advent.  In this season, there is not the unique emphases of the other seasons, but during this time, the Church continues to reflect on all that Jesus said and did, as well as on the instructions that the apostles gave to the first believers in the Church.  This reflection time gives opportunity for believers to consider how the truth of their faith shapes them and guides them as they live in the very ordinary details of their everyday lives. 

Why is walking through the Christian Calendar helpful to our walk in Christ?

I believe that walking through the Christian Calendar is helpful to our growth in Christ because it helps us to see the whole story of Jesus and the Church each year, rather than letting us get stuck on a few favorite parts of the Scriptures or on our favorite Biblical emphases, which we are all prone to do.  It is important that we are shaped by the whole story.

It also gives us opportunities to feast and to fast, to laugh and to cry, to celebrate God’s love for us and to also recognize our brokenness.  It would do us no good, for example, if when we came to church, we always sang joyful, celebratory songs.  For we also need times to lament of the brokenness of this world and ourselves.  We also need times of self-reflection and penitence.  

The seasons of the Christian Calendar allow us to worship God while giving voice to all the emotions that life evokes and by naming the true realities of ourselves and our world.  

Additionally, the alternating times of feasting and fasting, and celebrating and lamenting in these seasons, give us opportunities to truly celebrate when we come to the feasting days and seasons.  

For if we always feast, there is then nothing very special or truly celebratory about any of our feasting.   These “feasts” are just part of our normal routine and they don’t necessary evoke a sense of joy, thankfulness, or worship in us. If, however, we fast before we feast and lament before we celebrate, then we can truly experience what feasting and celebration is meant to be.  

For example, if we spend the season of Lent fasting, being truly self-reflective and penitent, and understanding why Jesus had to be crucified, then when Easter comes, we then can truly recognize what good news the Resurrection is.  This Good News will then awaken true joy, thankfulness, and celebration in us in a much more meaningful and powerful way.  And when we feast, we will truly feast!  

So how do I practice the seasons of the Christian Calendar?

If you are a member of the Mission Cincinnati, then you are already practicing these seasons when you come to corporate worship each week.  

There are, however, some things that you can do on your own, as well.  

 First, you can purchase a Christian Calendar or find one online, which will remind you of the seasons and the special days (and heroes and heroines of the faith) that are celebrated in each season.  I recommend these resources:  

Second, you can read through the lectionary, Bible passages assigned each day that will help you enter into the overarching story of God’s love and redemptive plans.  I’ll talk about this more next week when I talk about the Daily Office.

Third, you can engage in particular practices on your own that will help you engage with each season more deeply.  I won’t write about them here, but will write about them as our church community enters into each new season.   

As we are currently in the season of Epiphanytide, my suggestion for you would be spend this season slowly reading through (or listening to) one of the Gospels and really wrestling with it. 

My prayer for you as you engage this exercise is that God would reveal Jesus to you in new, fresh ways, so that you would see Jesus anew, perhaps in a fuller and clearer way than you have before.  

Well, A Blessed Epiphanytide to you friends.  May Christ reveal himself to you more and more as you walk through the Christian Calendar this year.