*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 29th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today- our last day of a marathon mailbag session- our question comes from Thomas in Bellingham. Thomas asked “where does the idea of the church calendar come from? Why do some people use it and others don’t?”
Great question! So first what is the church calendar? We’ve talked about the Julian and Gregorian Calendars on this show and we have talked about the lunar and solar calendars. The church calendar is that organization of the year into seasons wherein an aspect of the faith- of the life and ministry of Jesus is recognized.
Maybe you belong to a Protestant church that got rid of anything that looked “too Catholic” at the time of the Reformation. Maybe you have a kind of Church calendar at your church but it really is Christmas, Easter, and Summer Break.
The utility of the church calendar is not dissimilar to the way we attend worship on Sundays. Do we have to do it on Sunday? No. Is it prescribed in the Bible? No. But as humans, we live with rhythms and seasons. And so historically the church has followed a calendar for the year- usually with a “lectionary” or assigned readings that everyone in that denomination hears from on a given Sunday.
The church calendar dates back to… wait for it… Constantine! Remember the council of Nicea was called in part to set the date for Easter so that Christians would be celebrating this high holy day together. This was seen as essential for Christian unity. And as a Christian, your year (according to the church calendar) started yesterday with the first Sunday in Advent
[real fast: I love all of you who take advent so seriously that Christmas stuff is banished. I love you all, I really do. And I hate it. Christmas starts when you drive home from Thanksgiving and play Brice Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town]
Advent is a season to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. Advent literally means “an arrival”.
Advent is followed by the 12 days of Christmas. Christmas has been on December 25th since 336. Was it initially a pagan holiday that the church replaced with…. Yada yada… maybe? Sort of? It doesn’t really matter.
Christmas is followed by Epiphany- that is “the appearance”. In this season the church reflects on the appearance of Jesus in his earthly ministry.
Epiphany is followed by Lent. What does “Lent” mean? It means “Spring”, no big revelation here. But Lent was established at Nicea in 325 as the season of preparation for Easter. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. Easter comes at the end of Holy Week.
This is in the Spring. The new year doesn’t begin until November. What happens between then? Sometimes it’s called “ordinary time” sometimes it’s called the season of Pentecost or the season of the church. It’s really really long
Have you ever seen that meme of a beautifully hand-drawn horse- that from its head to midsection is exquisite and then the back half looks like it was drawn by a child? I’m not saying the church year looks like that but the season of Pentecost is long.
Do we have to do these things? No! Can they be useful in uniting Christians across time and space? Yes! Are there other ways of doing it? Sure!
The church seasons can be as irrelevant as the fact that so and so died on this date, or some big event happened on another date. But, as I’ve told you before on this show the “On this day” format allows me- forces me- to jump around, not stay in one place, to set a rhythm, much like the church calendar (when used) has done for centuries.
Thank you for the question Thomas!
The Last Word for today comes from a good advent text from Luke 1:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of November 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by man who knows Bellingham as the home of Death Cab for Cutie, Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who knows Bellingham as the home of Cuddles Marshall- a relief pitcher in the 50s. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.