According to an odd little thing called the “liturgical calendar,” this week we begin a season known as “Advent.” It is the first season of the church year. Sorry, Gregorian calendar season called “January.” Apparently, you aren’t the beginning. Well, at least of the church calendar year. Weird, right?
Yes, it is. And I get that a lot. Next to the “why do bad things happen” question, something resembling “I don’t get the church seasons” may be the most popular topic of conversation that I lead 24-7-12-365. And I agree, the liturgical calendar is quite strange. We celebrate the Christ Child every year on December 25, yet Easter can fall on most any Sunday from the end of March to the end of April. Weird, indeed.
Unlike our weekly, monthly and yearly calendars, the liturgical calendar isn’t terribly worried about marking time. Instead, it takes the time to point to the unique ways God has marked humanity, and all creation, with grace and love. While “normal” calendars demarcate by revolutions of objects in space, the liturgical calendar is divided into stories of the relationship that those objects have with their Creator. The liturgical calendar is a mashup of tangible time, old stories, new emotions, and abstract ideas. That is a really odd mix of things, so I get how this may be frustrating … especially to those who are driven by absolutes.
When it is winter versus Advent, this is a no-brainer. How does one, in empirical terms, live in a season of “coming” and the “arrival of hope”? Can that really compete against (in the northern hemisphere) a season of “short days” and “colder temperatures”? One allows you to build a fire and get cozy, the other asks you to examine your longing. Try and slide down a snow-covered hill on longing.
The strangest thing about liturgical time, though, may be that it is actually an excellent dance partner for most of us as we work our way through a life organized by those 24-7-12-365 calendars. Because we worry what will become of us in the approaching months as our companies face year-end challenges. Something is coming and we sense it. And we start to breathe in short bursts when we think about having to spend another weekend at our partner’s home answering the same questions. How long will this go on? And, while it may have been 15 years ago, we still remember grandpa’s last Christmas and the tears well up with the thought of having one second of that time back again. While the earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, we — the fragile and emotional creation — sit still and hope that something will come this year and bring us peace. We get Advent, because Advent gets at us. And that may be the most frustrating part of it all. Liturgical time is real.
While there are plenty of other ways to track time, I pray that you would allow Advent to be primary for you as we move toward the next season of Christmas. Personally, I am intent on uniting myself with those who cry out for help and those who hope in God. Because somewhere in the midst of the time, stories, emotions and ideas, there is a place for me to become myself. The discovery of hope and joy awaits me there. And God knows I need it.