A new year. A year of expectation and anticipation. What kind of year are you hoping for? The Christian Church Year begins with expectation in Advent: expecting, hoping, waiting for the coming of our Lord in glory to complete the work He has begun in us and in the whole creation. There is always unfinished work to be done. The close of the year rarely means complete closure on the old year and a completely new start to the new one. We have no clean slate, however much we might want one. And so it is fitting that the same day we celebrate the beginning of our secular year, we also celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus. Our year begins with the shedding of blood. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV).
The secular year makes us think of metaphors such as “turning over a new leaf,” “turning the page,” beginning again. But it is the Church Year that teaches us where life begins again. It is the Church Year that draws us into the Life which is life abundant. So the Church Year teaches us about a real new beginning, and not just good intentions or resolutions to begin again. It draws us in, further and further, into the Life of Christ from birth (Christmas), revelation to all nations (Epiphany), suffering and death (Lent and Holy Week), all the way through to resurrection (Easter). But it also teaches us to be patient in the long periods of life when nothing seems to change much at all. That is Pentecost, and it reminds us that even when our life seems dry and desert-like, the life of the Church in Christ her Head is ever-green.
The secular year, from January to December, can teach us false notions, such as the idea that our life is just one cycle after another, which starts new each January. But the Church Year, while reciting the same life of Christ and the same life of the Church each year, does more. It always pulls us further in, receiving grace upon grace, and further up, toward the summit of our hope, which is the return of our Lord. As you enter a new secular year still in early darkness, remember that in the Church Year you are basking in the epiphany light of Christ. That is the light that will never fade, and the Church always rejoices to gather around that light where His Word and His Sacraments are freely given for our forgiveness and salvation. And every new day, every new year that dawns should remind us of the coming dawn, when night and darkness will be forever banished by the glory of God and the Lamb (Revelation 21:23-25).
May this new year bring you the deeper and lasting blessings of life lived in Christ.
*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”