There are, in reality, two reasons to celebrate today. Not only is it right to say, “Happy Thanksgiving,” it’s also appropriate to say, “Happy New (Christian) Year!” That’s because, for the past two-thousand years, Christians have marked time differently than their secular culture.
The “Christian Year” (or “Church Calendar”) refers to a yearlong calendar that marks time according to God’s activities rather than ours. It is to live life in a rhythm with Christ at the center of worship.
Time is referenced in the Bible as both chronological (Chronos) and seasonal (Kairos). The Christian Year is a co-mingling of both these kinds of time. Liturgical Christians celebrate events in which God acted in history for the benefit of his people. In order to remember those moments, dates have been assigned on the Christian Calendar so that we will not forget these significant events and praise God for what he has done.
So, then, to observe The Christian Year helps Christians as God’s people to recall and retell the story of God, especially the redemptive events of Jesus. In doing so, it provides a guide for spiritual growth. The Christian Calendar is arranged in such a way as to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ over the course of a year.
One of the ways this helps followers of Christ to remember distinct seasons is through the liturgical colors:
- Purple signifies a time for preparation and penitence.
- White represents celebration, joy, and victory.
- Green lets us know it is time to focus on spiritual growth and mission.
- Red helps us recall the Passion of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Year is organized and arranged with these seasons:
Advent – The Christian Year begins not on January 1, but four Sundays before Christmas Day and up to Christmas Eve. The purpose of Advent is to anticipate Christ’s incarnation and prepare Christians to celebrate the coming of Jesus. We are also reminded that Jesus will return again at the end of the age.
Christmas – Yes, Christmas is more than just a day on the Church Calendar and encompasses the twelve days from December 25 to January 5 (you may recognize the “12 Days of Christmas”). Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ.
Epiphany – Epiphany follows Christmas from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday. The term Epiphany means “manifestation.” This is a celebration of God’s revelation, his manifestation to the entire world, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles, as well. Epiphany emphasizes Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry of teaching, healing, and preaching.
Lent – There are forty days in the season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. Lent is a time to recall Christ’s temptation, conflict, suffering, and death. It is a season to contemplate Christian discipleship through the light of Christ’s Passion, engage in repentance, and put deliberate focus on spiritual disciplines that connect the penitent with Jesus.
Easter – As with Christmas, Easter is not just one Sunday; it is a season of fifty days up to the day of Pentecost. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus; helps believers recognize new life in Christ; and includes celebrating the Ascension of the Lord.
Pentecost – This season runs from Eastertide to the Sunday before Advent. Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church, acknowledges personal and communal spiritual power, and calls Christians to rejoice in receiving God’s power.
Ordinary Time – This is the same season as Pentecost. Ordinary time (also known as Proper Time) refers to the ongoing work of the church to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the typical, expected, proper and ordinary work of ministry that Christ’s followers are to do.
God of all time, you make all things new, bring hope alive in our hearts, and cause us to be born again. Thank you for this new Christian Year of following Jesus and all the potential it holds. Come and kindle in us a mighty flame so that in our time, many will see the wonders of God and live forever to praise your glorious name. Amen.