Cuthbert United Methodist Church
Saturday, March 17, 2018


We’re fast approaching New Year’s, for the Church!  Every year, Christians follow a liturgical year that helps us to experience and contemplate the story of Christ, from his anticipated coming, through  his ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Traveling through the story each year helps us to keep fresh our wonder at this central story of our faith.   Each year, we are different, and as the Christ-story unfolds, we are touched and transformed in a different way.  So, let’s take a look at how traditional practices help us to focus on the seasons.  This month, we explore the upcoming seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  
The Christian year begins with Advent, the four weeks of (including Sundays) that come before Christmas.  This year, November 30 is our “New Year’s Day!”  Advent (Latin: adventus) means “Coming” and  is a four-week period of  preparation and repentance, hope and yearning; characterized with the color purple (royalty and penitence) or dark blue (symbolizing hope).  Who’s “coming”?  Jesus, of course, but not just baby Jesus—we are also looking for Christ-with-us now, and anticipating the final, victorious return of Christ. Readings focus on prophecy and the story of John the Baptist, preparing the way.  We sing songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and light a purple candle each week until Christmas comes.  Other symbols that you’ll see in worship include: the wreath (with the circle and evergreen symbolizing eternity) and  the Chrismon tree (adorned with symbols and monograms of Christ.  Though the malls are playing Christmas carols, Christians know that Advent cannot be rushed: it is an important, reflective season which can deepen our spiritual experience of Christmas.  
Surprisingly,the next season, Christmas, is not as long as Advent – beginning on Christmas Eve, it lasts just one or two Sundays.  We read the familiar but always amazing Christmas story, joyfully sing all our best-known hymns and carols, such as “Joy to the World,” and adorn the church with white and gold.  Often a white Christ candle replaces the purple candles at the Advent wreath.  The focus is on the Nativity of Christ, so symbols such as Manger scenes, poinsettias (reminding us of the Star of Bethlehem), and angels are everywhere, as is exchanging gifts, parties and food  (celebrating Jesus’ Birthday).  FYI, Jesus’ birth day was set sometime before the fourth century, and may have been a way to show divine connection between the crucifixion and the Feast of the Annunciation  (nine month’s difference). The date also has beautiful connections between the winter solstice (Dec. 21) and the Sun/Son of Righteousness. “Christ+Mass”  relates to the main idea of the season – Christ’s  incarnation, God in flesh.  Worried about “Christ” being taken out of Christmas?  Though we must be vigilant to honor Christ with our celebrations, the word “Christ” will not be easily removed  -- X  is a symbol of Christ (the cross), so “X-mas” still bears his name, and the phrase “Happy Holidays” actually refers to “Holy-Days.”  
The short Christmas season gives way to the day of  Epiphany, which is the 12th day after Christmas, January 6.  We usually mark Epiphany Sunday on the Sunday closest to the 6th  ( Jan. 8, 2015). This is another tradition-set date, as the magi don’t rightly belong in the stable, on Christmas eve or even twelve days later; their visit would have likely been delayed a year or two.  Epiphania means “manifestation” or revelation.  We celebrate the coming of the magi, and praise, with them, God-with-us, Emmanuel.   Epiphany symbols include the gifts of the magi- gold, frankincense and myrrh, the star, and crowns.  On New Year’s Eve or the first Sunday in January, Methodists often also observe Wesley’s Covenant Service, which formally renews our resolve to live in faithful covenant with God (see the beautiful “Covenant Prayer” on Hymnal # 607).
The subsequent 5-8 week “Season after the Epiphany” is “Ordinary time,” book-ended with two high holy days, “Baptism of the Lord Sunday” and “Transfiguration Sunday.”  The gospel readings tell the story of Christ’s early ministry.  Except for white for the high holy days, the season’s color is a neutral green, symbolizing growth, and symbols might include the shell /baptismal,  water jars for the wedding at Cana (Jesus’ first miracle), and candles, for the bright light of the transfiguration experience.    
We will explore more in-depth the following seasons (Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost) in another article.  Meanwhile, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!”