Of course, the church has to do it differently. It’s the church, after all. This time, I’m talking about the calendar.
The secular calendar says that the year begins on January 1. The school calendar says the year begins in late August or early September. The church says that year begins on the first Sunday of Advent – which isn’t a date, because it’s a Sunday, so you have to count backwards from Christmas.
The year begins on the first Sunday of Advent and lasts anywhere from three weeks and a day to four weeks. Then the season of Christmas begins. Christmas lasts 12 days, December 25 to January 5. January 6 is Epiphany (which we usually celebrate on the Sunday before or after the actual day, there by cutting Christmas short or stretching it out a little bit.
The weeks between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday is part of “ordinary time,” though in this case, ‘ordinary’ refers to counting (ordinal numbers) not ‘typical.’ Because Easter is set according to the full moon and the spring equinox (the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox – yes, that is as ridiculous as it sounds), it moves around. And because Lent starts on the fortieth day before Easter not counting Sundays, Easter’s moving around makes Ash Wednesday move around, which means the length of the ordinary time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday varies. This year, it’s short.
The overarching theme of the Sundays after Epiphany is ‘revelation,’ in particular how God reveals Godself in Jesus, and how people are drawn to God through Jesus. We start with the magi (the wise men) drawn by a star in the skies. The story of Jesus’ baptism is typically read during these weeks (though we’ll be skipping it this year), a story about both the revelation of God’s mission in Jesus and God’s love. Often, we’ll hear stories of disciples being called by Jesus or Jesus revealing something about himself or his mission.
Finally, on the last Sunday of this season, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we hear one of the stories of Jesus’ transfiguration. Here, the ‘inner circle’ of Jesus’ closes disciples sees the blazing significance of Jesus as he converses with Moses and Elijah and his garments gleam snowy white.
During this year’s season after Epiphany, we will conclude our “Journey” series of sermons begun in Advent, we will hear some “News from Mount William, New Hampshire,” Pastor Brenda will preach on the scripture Jesus picked for his first public statement (at least according to Luke), and Rich Godfrey will share about his medical mission to Sierra Leone during the final weeks of the most recent Ebola crisis there (on January 31).
Then, staring in Lent, Pastor Brenda and I will begin a yearlong sermon series (even though we’re starting it mid-church-year) inspired by a book by Brian McLaren – but more about that next month.
For this month, I invite you into the seasons of the church year and remind you that we have our annual budget meeting at the end of the month (see page 1). And let me add that in all my career, I can’t think of an annual budget meeting that I’ve more proud to attend. The generosity and commitment you have expressed, and the trust and hopefulness that you have expressed in your pledges for 2016 fill me with joy and, well, trust and hope for our future and our ministry together into this new (secular) year.