As autumn turns towards winter and Halloween towards Christmas, I’m always reminded of the change in our liturgical church year. Lutheran churches usually follow a calendar, marking the passing of time in the church story much as your regular calendar marks time during the year. The church calendar isn’t a law; we are free to celebrate times as days as we wish. Observing the seasons of the church year helps keep us together and reminds us that our lives flow through a universe bigger than we are.
Here are the seasons of the year, with a brief explanation for each.
Advent begins our church calendar. It starts in late November and early December. During Advent we hear stories about the end of old things and the beginning of something new. That newness comes to us with the arrival of the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. The themes of Advent are announcements, anticipation, and keeping alert.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It often includes the few stories we have from Jesus’ young days: Jesus’ welcome at the temple as a babe, Jesus teaching there as a youth, or King Herod slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem trying to snuff out Jesus’ kingship before it even started. Giving, fulfillment of prophecy, and the ills of the world are themes of the Christmas season.
Epiphany explores how people come to recognize Jesus and his purpose. The first to do so are the Magi (Wise Men) at the manger, but many others follow. The Epiphany season includes Jesus’ baptism, his first miracles, and his basic teachings. God reveals God’s self to the world through actions and words. Epiphany themes include discovery, exploration, and interpretation through metaphors of water, salt, light…basic, earthly things that convey deep meaning. Epiphany ends with Transfiguration Sunday, where Jesus is explicitly revealed to his disciples on top of a mountain as they see him “dazzling white”, in heavenly glory.
Next time: the final three seasons of the church year!