A Calendar for You This New Year

With a new year beginning, many of us have either bought or received 2019 calendars. These calendars often have themes - whether your favorite sports team, a hobby you enjoy, or pictures of your family (to name a few). The theme of calendars reflects our interests, and the content of the calendar affects our lives, showing key events that we need to remember as well as holidays that affect our schedules. Therefore, calendars are very important pieces of our lives.

The Church or Christian Calendar

Historically, the Christian Church has its own calendar with various holidays and seasons that are designed to help us remember the life of Christ as well as give us rhythms for our spiritual lives. Just as the people of Israel had a calendar that reflected God’s saving actions in their history, so Christians have holidays and seasons that remind us of God’s work for us in Christ. Some churches use this calendar to structure their services throughout the year (so it is also known as a liturgical calendar).

Most people are familiar with the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, which mark the birth of Jesus (Christmas) and his resurrection (Easter), respectively. Because of their connection to Easter, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday are probably the next well-known holidays among Christians, as they respectively mark the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, his last supper with the disciples, and his death. Advent and Lent might appear next on the list of most recognizable parts of the Christian calendar; these are not holidays themselves but seasons (a series of weeks) that prepare for Christmas and Easter, respectively.

Ash Wednesday is another day that people are familiar with (and often are made aware of as they see people having ashes on their foreheads), but I am not sure if the significance of Ash Wednesday is widely understood. It shifts the season from Epiphany (as explained below) to Lent, which is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) prior to Easter.  Lent serves as a time of preparation for the holiday with a focus on repentance and a reminder of our frailty in life (to dust we will return) because of the fall of humanity into sin (which Jesus comes to save us from). The 40 days come from the fact that Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted for 40 days; once again, the holiday has connections to the life of Jesus.

Don’t Forget About These Days

These are also some big days in the church calendar that are not as widely discussed in many churches circles:

Epiphany (January 6) - Epiphany marks the story found in Matthew 2:1-12 of the arrival of the wise men or “magi” from the East who saw a star and journeyed to give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus and to worship him (Matthew 2:11). (This probably occurred a year or two after Jesus’s birth.) Their arrival fulfills the promises of Isaiah 60:3-6 and Psalm 72:10-11 that important foreigners would worship the chosen king of Israel. The significance of this event comes from the fact that these men were not Jews – they were Gentiles (non-Jews), coming to worship the Jewish king. Epiphany is a reminder that Jesus came for people of all nations. This holiday shifts the seasons from Christmastide (the 12 days after Christmas) to the season of Epiphany that goes until the start of Lent; Epiphany can serve as a time for focus and renewal (which often happens in the New Year for us)

Ascension Day (40 days after Easter; in 2019, May 30) - This day is always on a Thursday (the following Sunday is often celebrated as Ascension Day) and shifts year to year because it is connected with Easter (which is on a different day each year). It reminds us that Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father 40 days after his resurrection; he now rules in heaven and also prays for us there. We also know that He promises to come again to reign forever.

Pentecost (50 days after Easter; in 2019, June 9) - This day remembers that the Holy Spirit fell on the first disciples in Jerusalem as promised by Jesus, and is a reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost marks a new season, often called Ordinary Time (as it counts up by numbers: 1st week, 2nd week, etc. - it goes up to 27 or 28 spots); this is the season after Eastertide, which goes from Easter to Pentecost (similar to Christmastide going from Christmas to Epiphany). The color in the season or Ordinary Time is usually green to show growth in our faith, and I think the name “Ordinary” is actually helpful, as the ordinary Christian life is to be one marked by growth and guided by the Spirit.

Learning from the Church Calendar, Whether We Follow It or Not

Jesus did not command his church to use this calendar for its services (it seems to have developed in the fourth century), so churches are free to choose whether or not to use it. In many ways, the church calendar fell out of favor with some Christians because of its misuse or abuse;since the church calendar so regulated and structured the life of the church in some communities, a break from it may have been necessary in order to make sure the focus is on the gospel. At times I wonder if more attention to the church calendar by contemporary American Christians might draw more attention back to the gospel, pointing us to Jesus more than the Hallmark or national holidays that our lives often revolve around (note how all the holidays point us to key things in the life of Jesus). There is nothing inherently wrong with secular days, and honoring national holidays is a way to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and show respect for our civic leaders and position, but our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and should thus have “heavenly” holidays that remind us of who our true king is. Maybe this year you can mark your calendar to remember these days that celebrate key events in the life and ministry of Jesus and be reminded of why they are important for you. The holidays and seasons on our calendars affect our day-to-day lives, may the holidays and the seasons of the Christian calendar also shape our lives.

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