Saturday, November 28, 2015

“Out with the Old/In with the New?” Thoughts on the End of the Christian Year

Not the Liturgical View of Time...

Today marks the conclusion of the Liturgical Year, our New Year’s Eve, our December 31. In secular terms, the end of the year is often portrayed as an old man, with the New Year shown as a baby or young child. Derived ultimately from pagan sources, this image re-affirms the cycle of death and rebirth as the way things “really” are, guiding our plans, expectations, and choices as human beings. Viewed this way, time is an endless circle, leading back on itself and--ultimately--no where in particular.

No such imagery exists for the Church Year. For us, the prison of time has been exploded, the walls knocked down, and the captives are in the act of escaping—as happened to the jailed Apostles in the Book of Acts.

The move from one Liturgical Year to another is for Christians always a deepening, not just another repetition. We enter into our experience of life in Christ more deeply as we journey through this world—always as resident aliens who are, in effect, ‘just passing through.”

The hand-off from the feast of Christ-the-King to Advent Sunday is not a radical disjuncture but a mutual fulfillment: Christ’s Kingship is inaugurated in his first coming and is completed in his second; his coming into the world establishes a unique kind of kingship, one of peace, love, and truth. History shows how extraordinarily different this manner of rule is from the fallen, human norm.

No big parties are needed to soothe the transition from Ordinary Time to the season of Advent; no babies with numerical sashes or elderly figures with scythes are required. The Liturgical Year ultimately points not to the annual cycle of seasons or years, but outside these limits to the eternal itself. When we learn the difference between these two kinds of calendars, we can begin to grasp the radically different assumptions and mindsets they stand for--and to live already as citizens of heaven, not slaves of earth and its repeating patterns.

The time-bound (secular) mindset—whether within the Church or outside of it—views all things through the lens of scarcity. There is simply never enough of anything: resources, popularity, relevance, money, and time. This leads to a culture of force, anxiety, legalism, and control.

The faithful mindset, aware of the living God’s presence and grace, is conformed rather to a heavenly economy of potential--the possibilities opened up by our living relationship to an infinitely giving God. This, in turn, unlocks the potential within human beings and overcomes the boundaries dividing people, nations, and ages.

Advent, the first season of the new Liturgical Year, will focus on the question of eternity-in-time, exposing the urgency and necessity of living our lives in time from an eternal perspective. The centrality of this commitment to a multi-dimensional, deepening experience of life and relationships will be one of its key themes.

So, one can see that the Liturgical Year is—at heart—not an escape from reality into an arcane hobby (though it certainly can be misused this way), but an encounter with the very fabric of our existence, the raw materials of our lives. Through this way of living in time, we attain an ever-deeper dwelling in reality, humility, and truth. For us, the change-over from one year to the next is not “out with the old, in with the new,” but always a re-affirmation of God’s word in Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new.”

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