My church background consists of a non-liturgical style of worship, which has made my discovery of Jesus Christ in the celebration of the Christian Year an exciting one for me.
For the last two decades, Christian scholars like Thomas Oden and Robert Webber have emphasized the importance of the early church and have had a major impact on the way that many evangelicals think about and practice their faith. Due to their influence, many believers are experiencing a rediscovery of the richness of the Christian tradition, especially the Christian Year.
What is the Christian Year? I found that the heart and soul of the Christian Year is the person and work of Jesus Christ. It centers on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and celebrates the significant events in earthly life such as: his birth, baptism, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. The Christian Year is a way for Christians to measure time that centers on Jesus Christ.
Who celebrates the Christian Year? While many evangelicals are rediscovering it, it is generally the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches that celebrate the Christian Year, and Christians in the revivalistic, holiness, and Pentecostal traditions that do not. Often in those traditions, there is even a bias against anything that seems too structured although one could easily argue that their resistance to structure has resulted in a structure based upon pragmatics (seeker-sensitive and non-charismatic) or a façade of Holy Spirit influence (Pentecostal and charismatics).
How did the Christian Year develop? The Christian Year did not magically appear out of nowhere although it did begin to develop very early in Christian history. It is based upon the Old Testament Jewish cycle of life. Israel commemorated certain events at certain times of the year, and this formed the basis of their religious life over the year. Since Christianity is connected to Judaism, and most of the early Christians were Jews, it makes sense that they would develop a Christian cycle of life based upon the life of Jesus Christ. Many Jewish festivals were retain, but with an emphasis on its fulfillment through Jesus Christ.
What are the seasons of the Christian Year? The Christian Year consists of two primary cycles. Robert Webber calls these the “Cycle of Light” and the “Cycle of Life” (Webber, 2004). The Cycle of Light focuses on the birth and life of Jesus Christ, while the Cycle of Life focuses on his death and resurrection. Most of the celebrations of the Christian Year consist of more than a single Sunday. They are seasons, which last for several weeks. This encourages believers to enter into the event more deeply by identifying with Jesus Christ.
Usually in December, Advent begins the Christian Year by celebrating the events leading up to and culminates in the birth of Jesus Christ, which initiates the Christmas season. Following Christmas is Epiphany which leads to Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and leads through Holy Week to the Easter celebration and season. Easter season closes with Pentecost. Generally, each season is begun with a special Sunday.
Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004).