As a kid, my family participated in Advent through a liturgy that I assume my father created, drawing from various sources and scripture. Each Sunday night in Advent, we would turn off the fluorescent bulbs in our dining room, light a candle on the Advent Wreath, and pray together through Scripture. As we did this we traced the biblical prophecies of the coming Messiah, culminating in their fulfillment in the birth of Christ. From the first time we did this on, something about the liturgy—and especially the Church Year—stuck with me.
There are a multitude of reasons that all Christians would benefit from engaging with the Christian calendar, but here are the Big Three for me:
As we recall the longing for Messiah in Advent, the joy of Christmas, the penitential Lent, the victory of Easter, the thankfulness at Pentecost, etc., we re-enact God’s True Story. Each year we join together as a church, players for an audience of One, literally ordering our lives by the Gospel narrative. As we do this we proclaim the Good News to the world that watches and to each other in a way that places Christ at the center of our lives.
Just as an actor or actress can’t help but be affected at least in some way by the character he or she plays, we too are shaped by our actions and thoughts when we pattern our lives after Christ’s. It is simple enough to be understood by children, but flexible enough that there are endless avenues for creativity. And no matter what, by holding to the outline of the liturgical calendar, you’ll hit all the major discipleship points: repentance, faith, belief, redemption, walking in the Holy Spirit, waiting for the Lord, rejoicing in God’s majesty, grieving in sin, everything in the Nicene Creed. At the very least, the Church Year is a proven tool for teaching the Gospel story in a very participatory, immersive way over time. At its best, the Christian Calendar provides a way for us to order our lives around Christ, instead of secular holidays and the American academic year.
Some form of the liturgical calendar has been in use for at least 1,600 years, and possibly even more. All our Christian ancestors practiced the Church Year, most of today’s Christians across the world will participate, and many Christians in the future will also join the the rhythm of Holy Feasts and Ordinary Time. It reminds us that our faith is one that is about God calling a people out for himself, and that his plans are much, much bigger than any one person—yet each of us is loved, known, and called individually by God to be a part of Christ’s Body on Earth.
If you’re already familiar with the Church Year, there’s a possibility that it’s become old habit. I’d like to encourage you to take a step back, pause, and reflect on the timeless majesty and usefulness of this great Christian tradition. If you’ve never really given the Christian Year a thought past Christmas and Easter, consider observing the major feasts this year, starting in Advent. You don’t have to go to special services or anything (although these rhythms are designed to be observed in community)—just make yourself aware of what’s happening on the liturgical calendar, and pause each week to meditate on the Scripture that the season is based on.
I believe you’ll be blessed.