The Christian Year: Three Guiding Patterns
Worshiping according to the Christian Year is not merely another fad to follow, or some ancient practice to match. It’s a pattern of worship which at its heart has three major themes that will greatly enhance the life of any congregation.
The first is the understanding of time. The abiding conviction of the Christian faith is that time is essentially valuable. The eternal God who called time into being has chosen to do his work within time, and so history and eternity continuously intersect and become the location of God’s work. God reveals himself in time and his acts have taken place in time. Everything in the Christian Year, from the beginning of Advent on, is about the actions of God in time. The cycle of day and night, of week and Sabbath, birth and death, all prepare us for the cycle of birth / death / resurrection / consummation through Christ which we mark in the observance of the Christian Year. Time, therefore, becomes essentially valuable.
The second is the nature of faith formation. God, who forms faith within his people, calls each generation to participate together in forming faith in each new generation. This forming of faith in a new generation calls forth our best efforts. It is critically important, however, that the nature of such faith formation is clearly understood. While it may be necessary and valuable to teach each new generation the rules and patterns of expected behavior, and while it may also be important to communicate the knowledge of God in general, each of these falls short of what faith formation is intended to be. In Galatians 4:19, Paul captures the essence of such formation when he claims to be “in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Faith formation, therefore, is something intensely internal and is intimately bound up in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
The third theme of substance, then, must involve a comprehensive Christology. If there is any one consideration that has convinced me of the deep value of the Christian Year, it is the way in which a congregation has the opportunity to walk through the entire ministry of Jesus Christ annually. When other themes clamor for attention and time, the Christian Year anchors us in the experience of God’s work in Christ. Every year we prepare for his coming, celebrate his birth, consider his ministry, ponder his suffering and death, celebrate his resurrection, await his work of sending the Spirit and discover how to grow in Christ-likeness. In other words, every year we will clearly focus on the preparation for his coming, the time of his humiliation, his exaltation culminating in his return. Rich is the congregation who annually walks through a complete Christology. Such a congregation will be safe from many erroneous directions in which worship and faith formation can travel.
When these three themes are put together they form an overlapping way to reinforce an appreciation of the work of God in history for our redemption.
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