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.
As we begin another calendar year, the Church is already in full celebration mode, with the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (Jan. 1), Epiphany (Jan. 6), and the Baptism of Our Lord (celebrated Jan. 11).
Everywhere, people are talking about New Year’s Resolutions, which no one expects to keep and which no one really wants to, anyway. They are generally distasteful things, which is why we always say things like, “When the holidays are over, then I’ll…”; they are things which we do not want to begin until there’s nothing better to do in the winter months of January and February.