Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Basic Christian Stuff: The Christian Year

There are some things that we Christians all share in common. We all believe that Jesus is the Son of God that God created the earth and that prayer is an effective mode of communication with the Almighty. There are also some things that are not observed universally in the church. Each denomination, each arm of the church has particular emphases or doctrines that we hold. For example, we United Methodists are in the Wesleyan- Arminian theological segment of the protestant church. This means that we believe that all people are given the ability by God to choose their own destiny. Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that our destiny is determined before hand by God. This is often called “predestination.” We are still in the same part of the Christian tradition, but this is a significant distinction.

Another area of similarity in the church is the Christian Calendar, or the Christian Year. Orthodox Christians, those who live and worship in the East, celebrate holy days on a different schedule than western Christians do. That is one difference. Another is that evangelical, Pentecostal and independent churches tend to observe only certain parts of the Christian Calendar.

For mainline churches, United Methodists, Presbyterians, American Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ members, there is more to the Christian Year.

The Year begins with Advent and the celebration of the coming of Christ. For four weeks we prepare for the birth of Christ and at Christmas we share in and celebrate the birth. Epiphany is celebrated each year on January 6. It is a celebration of the visit of the kings to the baby Jesus. You will notice that there are twelve days (of Christmas) between Christmas day and Epiphany.

Following Epiphany is a season that we call Ordinary Time. This is a prelude to Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday. For 40 days, not counting Sundays, Good Friday or Maundy Thursday, Christians reflect on their lives, make sacrifices for the sake of Christ and prepare for the resurrection on Easter Sunday. The Easter season continues for seven weeks until it culminates with the celebration of Pentecost. On Pentecost we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. After Pentecost we return to ordinary time. There are other days that are special within ordinary time, like All Saints Day. All Saints Day is the first Sunday in November.

There are other things about the Christian Year that you should note:

  • Thanksgiving is not a Christian holy day. It is essentially a secular observance to remember the grace and providence of God.
  • There is a schedule of Scripture readings that coincide with the church year. The lectionary has four readings for each day.
  • There are also colors to represent the seasons and days of the Christian year.

It is good for Christians to know and celebrate the times and seasons of the church year. By doing so, we will enhance our celebration of holy days and be reminded of all the works of God.

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