This week marks the beginning of Advent, the first season of the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Both traditions are commonly associated with the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, although they have long been recognized by high church traditions.
Increasingly, you hear about the major seasons like Advent and Lent in Free Churches. Sometimes the calendar gets muddled, making Advent some sort of four-week pre-Christmas.
For many of the growing number of us who identify as Neo-Anabaptist, there is an ironic affinity for the Christian Calendar. We claim the scriptures as our guide and the local church as an authority to interpret them. Isn’t it a contradiction to embrace a tradition that seems so rooted in Christendom?
I like to think of myself as a neo-anabaptist. I’m a free church guy, from a free church background, currently planting a free church. To me, the church should always be local, working out a shared way of life for its unique time and place.
Over the past eight years or so, I’ve been exploring the Christian Calendar. I work through a daily Lectio Divina based on the Lectionary. Austin Mustard Seed keeps the Christian Calendar in our back pocket, and mainly focuses on it during the major seasons.
So what’s the attraction?
Recently, I was trying to explain the idea of NOT singing Christmas carols during Advent. You wait to sing them during Christmastide and Epiphany.
This person responded jokingly, “you wait until everyone else has moved on, and then you celebrate Christmas?”
We Jesus-followers are so deeply entrenched in centuries of Christendom ruling the world that we need all the help we can get to live counterculturally! If following the Christian Calendar helps detach us from the consumerist narrative of the American Empire, which is something that Free Church types should want anyways, right?
Have you ever heard the acronym
While it may be a joke, many churches treat the scriptures this way. Some Churches seem to sell a sort of self-help approach, trying to find principles to live by. The Bible becomes a code that can be unraveled, or worse: life becomes a game, and the Bible is its rulebook.
The Christian Calendar reminds us that we are part of God’s story. This is good, because people build themselves out of stories. Our identities, as individuals and as a society, are an amalgam of different tales, forming a metanarrative that tells us who we are.
The Christian Calendar gives us an opportunity to remember God’s story, and find our identity within it.
We are how we spend our time.
We are not our aspirational identities. I would like to be a writer. Stephen King is a writer because he has a schedule for sitting down and writing every day. The biggest difference between Stephen King and I is how we spend our time.
If we want our church communities to be places where spiritual transformation takes place, we need to focus on how we spend our time. We need to build into our days, weeks, and years opportunities to practice doing what Jesus said to do. The Christian Calendar isn’t perfect, but it’s a step in that direction.
The fact is that we’re all grasping at straws here. For 1500 years, the Church has walked around like we own this place. There’s also a lot of great ideas about following Jesus buried in that 1500 years of history. The Christian Calendar was not ordained by God. It has its shortcomings.
But if it can help us become more countercultural, narratival and transformational, then we should pay attention.