First, let me acknowledge that as a Southern California native, I haven’t really experienced four seasons in an annual, sustained way. I have, however, traveled sufficiently and seen enough pictures of fall colors and first snowfall to be able to say that I’m a big fan of the concept of four seasons, even if I only typically experience about two and a half. Fortunately for me, I really do love spring and summer.
That said, the seasons I’m speaking of in this essay are not winter, spring, summer and fall. I’m thinking about the Christian tradition of being actively mindful of the Jesus story throughout the year. Typically this is called “The Liturgical Year” and is anchored by four primary seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. This is not a tradition that the Churches of Christ have typically followed; but neither is it a practice that we would find much biblical objection to, generally speaking. After all, how can one be against Christians paying attention to the story of Jesus in a thoughtful, annual rhythm?
Here’s a cursory outline of the seasons: During the season of Advent we enter into Israel’s anticipation of the coming of the Messiah while also preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ at the end of the age. The Christmas season focuses on the incarnation and birth of Jesus, celebrating the mystery of God’s love for the world and the reality of Emmanuel, “God with us.” The Lenten season focuses on humility, repentance, and renewal, following Jesus’ suffering on the way to the cross. The season of Easter focuses on newness of life, based on the power of the resurrection, while leading to the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church on Pentecost. The remainder of the year, from Pentecost to Advent (about seven months), is sometimes called “Ordinary Time” or “Season After Pentecost.” This season emphasizes the growth and development of the Church as the people of God.
So why do I love the various “seasons” of the church year? Here are a few reasons: 1) Any practice that roots me in the story of Jesus—and brings me back to it year after year—is a good thing. 2) Any practice that focuses me on the most significant aspects of the Christ story—and causes me to reflect deeply upon the central aspects of his life—is a good thing. 3) Any practice that causes me to challenge secular notions of time as a hopeless, endless, and meaningless cycle is a good thing. 4) Any practice that cultivates in me seasons of hopeful waiting, joyful celebration, focused self-control, and grateful service is a good thing. 5) Any practice that challenges the commercialization of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny is a good thing. 6) Any practice that draws me together with my fellow believers into the sharing of candlelight services, seasons of fasting, Good Friday observances, and service projects is a good thing.
This Advent, I hope you might (re)discover some of your own reasons for loving these seasons of faith as well.