Christians are so weird. Jews of course celebrate Rosh Hashannah--- the Jewish New Year. Most Christians however hardly even notice the Christian New Year which happens to have just transpired. Instead, they prefer to celebrate the ancient Roman and modern secular New Year on the eve of January 1 (a month named after the two-faced Roman God Janus). This is on a par to celebrating the Chinese New Year when you are not Chinese. What a colossal bad witness we give when we celebrate the secular New Year but not the Christian one. Christians should keep their own calendar, not Caesar's whether the ancient or the modern Caesar.
Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. Today was the first Sunday in Advent. If we bothered to notice, there are a whole series of wonderful Christian New Year's celebrations we could undertake. On the first Sunday in Advent we are supposed to be focusing on the Second Coming, not the first. This tradition goes back many centuries and is encoded into the lectionary texts for today. Technically the first Sunday in Advent both ends the old year (by looking forward to Christ's return) and inaugurates the New One.
If we were going to make meaningful Christian New Year's resolutions they should have to do with praying for, preparing for, teaching about, expecting the return of Christ. We would be remembering that everytime we pray the Lord's Prayer 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven' we are in fact praying for the return of Christ, very similar to the marana tha prayer found in 1 Cor. 16-- (Aramaic for 'Come O Lord'). Or perhaps as the medieval church did we would resolve to help the poor in more meaningful ways in the coming Christian year (instead of resolving merely to stop stuffing our own faces so often, and lose some weight). If you thought it was weird that Charles Wesley wrote a hymn entitled 'Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending' for this particular Sunday which is about Christ's visible return, you have just revealed that you did not know what the subject matter of the First Sunday of Advent has always been ever since we have had a Christian calendar.
Of course Christians seem with regularity not to have been very good at figuring out the proper timing for things. Take for instance the Roman monk from the sixth century I like to call Denny the Dwarf (aka Dionysius Exiguus). He is the one who saddled us with the B.C./A.D. divide we currently have. The only problem was he miscalulated the date of Jesus' birth. He was off by about-4-6 years. So weird as it may sound, Jesus was born 4-6 B.C. depending on exactly when Herod the Great died. This much we know for sure--- Herod died before the turn of the era as reckoned by Dionysius. In fact he seems to have died by at least 2 B.C. This then pushes the birth of Jesus back a ways, probably to about 4 B.C. since the flight into Egypt took place well before the death of Herod, and of course the birth of Jesus transpired before either of these events.
It is time for Christians to take back time (not to be confused with turn back the clock-- I know too many churches fervently praying that next year will be 1954 all over again). By this I mean that time is God's gift to us, and we need to live in a Christian way in relationship to time. We need to keep the Christian calendar of celebrations, including Christmas and Easter of course, not the secular one. Last year's huge snafu of canceling Christmas Sunday services so we could spend more time with the physical family rather than with the family of faith/ body of Christ was a good example of how to capitulate to non-Christian thinking about time.
Taking back time, which can also be called 'redeeming the time' (see Ephes. 5.16-- it does not refer to buying back time but rather making the most of it for the Lord and a good witness to Him), means for example we prioritize our time properly. For example, we don't go be soccer moms and dads on a Sunday morning unless there is some very special reason to do so. We don't rearrange church events to suit the schedule of sports events. Even worse was the church in Indiana who put TVs in the back of the sanctuary so people could watch I.U. basketball during the church Vesper's service and Board meeting. Talking about revealing where our real priorities lie. The Lord and his day and his business deserves more respect than that.
My suggestion to us all is to live in the Christian moment for the entire year to come--- Advent leads to Christmas, which leads to Epiphany which leads to Lent which leads to Easter which leads to Pentecost which leads to Kingdomtide and then we start the cycle over again. The cycle begins with the story of Christ, moves on to the story of the church, and returns once more to the story of Christ's Comings on the first Sunday in Advent. We are on a pilgrimage with Jesus and then on our own until he returns. His story is the story we must recite and retell until it becomes our story. My suggestion is that whenever we are in danger of getting caught up in the non-Christian moment with its own urgencies that we say to ourselves 'all in God's good time'. God's good time and timing is what we should be living by.
There is of course a famous text from Ecclesiastes which became a famous song-- 'to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven'. Just so, and the time is now for us to set back our mental clocks to Christian time. Its Advent (from the Latin Adventus-- 'to come'). Are you looking forward to the coming of Christ, or just the coming of an overly commerical celebration we increasingly call X-mas. It is up to you as to whether you put Christ back in Christmas or not in your life.
The term Christmas of course originally meant the mass for Christ. Will we be celebrating in a way that is commensurate with the meaning of that birth?
Paul reminds us that 'at the exactly right time, God sent forth his Son' (Gal. 4).
A medieval hymn written near the time the Christian calendar was set says this---
"Though Christ in Bethlehem, a thousand times be born,
Unless he's born in you, your heart is still forlorn."
During this Christmas season let's redeem the time, and so bear witness to the fact that we know our Redeemer lives and is the Lord of all time. Amen