Living the Christian year
The Kingdom of God re-orders everything, even (perhaps especially) the way we view time. Rather than being first ordered by a calendar, the Christian year is ordered by a Story, God's story in Jesus Christ (the gospel). The Christian Year follows this yearly cycle, as we actually live into Jesus' story of hope and redemption.
Our story commences with four weeks looking forward with anticipation toward the celebration of Jesus' birth, the fulfillment of Israel's hope and the fulcrum for all of God's promises for the world. In Advent, we look backward at the fact that Jesus has come for us once and watch forward, eager for Jesus to come for us again (the second advent).
Christmastide (the color for christmas is white)
The 12 days of Christmas, where we walk through Jesus' Incarnation.
Epiphany / ordinary time
The "striking appearance" (epiphany) of God begins (for Western Christians) with the story of Jesus' presentation to the magi and (for Eastern Christians) with the story of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. Epiphany marks Jesus' mission of moving into the world and of making himself known. This is also the first stretch of Ordinary Time, where we remember all Jesus' works and words.
Beginning with Ash Wednesday and climaxing in Holy Week, Lent is a time of preparation and repentance, as we look toward the dark hope Jesus won through his cross and resurrection. Lent is 40 days (the number of days Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness and one day for each year Israel wandered in the desert), but does not include Sundays (because every Sunday is a feast day, a day for celebrating Resurrection).
Easter (the color for easter is white)
The epicenter of our Story, the tale toward which all the tales point. Easter is a 50-day season of feasting and joy.
The culmination of Easter, the day we encounter the reality that God's Spirit has gone public in the world, even now. And now, the Church lives in God's mission for the world.
Ordinary time / after Pentecost
Beginning with Trinity Sunday, this longest season of the church year invites us to live out both the ordinariness and the power of Christian faith. Ordinary time includes All Saint's Day (the Sunday after November 1). The year culminates in Christ the King Sunday, and then begins again with the first Sunday in Advent.
Reasons for living the Christian year
It enables us to live in God’s Story. Church Year spirituality forms Christian people around the story of redemption in Christ. It does not focus on “principles” or “steps” or “programs” for spiritual growth. It is thoroughly Jesus-shaped and uses the biblical story to conform our lives to his. As Israel was shaped by their story of slavery, redemption, covenant, and Promised Land, so the New Israel is formed by the story of Messiah.
It keeps the main thing the main thing. Church Year spirituality is Christ-centered. It is shaped around the events of his incarnation, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of his Spirit. At every turn we see Jesus, we hear Jesus, we follow Jesus.
It recognizes that one’s calendar forms one’s life. Church Year Spirituality is down-to-earth, utterly realistic about the day to day, season to season patterns of life that shape our behavior. All our lives we have developed habits by the way we mark and use our time. A spirituality formed around the Church Year is designed to form our habits around following Jesus. We take the place of disciples, and walk through the same experiences they had as they lived with Jesus day in and day out, season after season, over the course of three years.
It links personal spirituality with worship, family, and community. Church Year Spirituality recognizes both the individual journey and the corporate pilgrimage. What happens on Sundays is of a piece with what happens during the week as our corporate worship and our daily lives as individuals and families are shaped around the story of Jesus.
It provides a basis of unity and common experience for Christians everywhere. Our unity with other Christians is in the Gospel story. This is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed and the other creeds of the church. Propositional doctrinal statements have their place as ways to express more detailed understandings of the meaning and significance of God’s saving acts, but our unity with other believers is in Christ. We celebrate this throughout the year when churches of various traditions and denominations celebrate the Church Year and conform their worship and congregational lives to it.