It’s December 31st, 2015. At midnight the ball will drop, the bells and party horns will sound and it will suddenly be a whole new year: 2016! Happily in our family tomorrow is also my youngest son’s birthday, so our family and friends’ tradition is to toast the new year then sing Happy Birthday to AJ – cheers for once more around the sun… another new year!
Earlier today I posted this cartoon from the New Yorker.
I’m old enough to remember checks. It was a quick laugh… but later I got to thinking more on it. One of the great blessings of my life is that I get to serve as a pastor. Currently I’m the associate at Calvary UMC in Wichita – a church with a deep love of the liturgical seasons. We have artwork, paraments, even different crosses that are mounted at the front of the sanctuary in different seasons! A UMC cross and flame design with its red flames for pentecost, a cross with a crown of thorns for lent and Easter, a massive green and copper cross for ordinary time, and my favorite: a beautiful and delicate wood cross that evokes the image of a star for advent and Christmas.
In my recent preaching and children’s times I’ve focused on how “the new year” in the Christian calendar started the first Sunday of Advent. I’ve focused on how “it’s still Christmas!” on Dec 27th and Jan 3rd and the importance of both the feast of the Nativity (Incarnation) and Epiphany as we dwell in the light darkness cannot overcome and follow the star with the magi. I am aware of other cultural and religion traditions that tell the stories and mark the dates differently. I’m also aware that the winter solstice was back on Dec. 22 and the perihelion (closest planetary approach to our star) isn’t until Saturday afternoon. Both were ways previous human cultures marked changes of season and year – so as a friend snarkily points out we’re either nine days late or a day and half early to this party 🙂
I’ve long been fascinated by different calendars – how the Orthodox date Easter differently from Western Christians, Jewish dating systems, how the Chinese celebrate new year based on a completely set of priorities and dates… these different vocabularies that seek to make sense of human existence and our relationship to eternity and our neighbors.
It struck me that the quick laugh in the cartoon never happened. Nobody referred to their own time as B.C. That label only came centuries later (likely 9th to 14th century) and only widespread once the Gregorian calendar system was set up. Our year 1 is based on both assumptions and realizations that came much later… Anno Domini… “the year of our Lord” has as much or more to do with the theology and assumptions of medival Europe as it does Jesus’ actual life.
I wasn’t always a pastor. Sure, I’ve always been “christian” culturally – even during the years when I was calling myself agnostic. But because my life has profoundly changed, I can remember my years “B.C.” – before Christ. Before I took all this seriously. Before I really had faith rather than going through the motions. Before I sensed and began to respond to grace. And I recognize that my understanding of those moments of transformation have come gradually and often in hindsight.
Rarely if ever in the moment. Culturally it is increasingly the case that our Christian stories and assumptions are no longer a given. I’m actually ok with that – as I’ve grown I’ve come to see how important actively engaging the faith, rather than just floating along in it, has been and is for me.
So I look at this cartoon and I ponder. How many of us are running around like it’s still B.C.? How has being a Christian changed us, shaped us. How are we different than if we didn’t profess, didn’t go to church, didn’t believe that the transcendent and eternal Word became flesh? Are the “checks” we’re writing with our daily lives any different than they would be otherwise?
As advent began, Christians around the world became intentional about remembering, anticipating and participating in what God does in the world. It’s a chance to start fresh. So is Dec 31st to Jan 1. So is Epiphany. So is Lent. So is Easter. So is Pentecost. So is each moment of “ordinary time” and every birthday and every single time you open your eyes to a new day.
Every moment is a chance to move further into A.D. To be the change we long for in the world, to become just a bit more like Christ – to enter into his love, humility, strength, grace, courage, kingdom, kin-dom and way.
Happy New Year.