By now, hopefully, you have taken down your 2017 calendar and put up your 2018 calendar. Maybe you have marked the new calendar with important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, vacations. Or maybe this year you are taking the plunge and getting rid of the old-fashioned paper calendars and going all digital. But whatever your preference, if you are like me, you still are not quite used to writing 2018 instead of 2017 on forms and other documents.
This past Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ baptism as we always do on the first Sunday in the Epiphany season. It is also an opportunity to celebrate the day on which we become children of God through the waters of Holy Baptism. What does all this have to do with calendars you ask?
In Romans 6:4 the Apostle Paul writes about the new life we have in Christ through Holy Baptism:
We were buried therefore with him [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (ESV)
We use calendars to help organize our earthly lives; the church calendar is designed to help us organize and celebrate the new life we have in Christ through Holy Baptism.
According to Dr. Scott Murray, a Lutheran pastor in Houston, Texas, there are three reasons for following the church calendar.
First, the church calendar helps us remember the important events of our Christians faith. Christianity is a historic faith. It is based on actual events in human history. We may not like all the unfamiliar names and places that the Bible refers to but that’s God’s way of telling us that the events in the Bible took place in real places among real people.
In Galatians 4 the Apostle Paul refers to Christmas by writing “When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son.” (NIV) The birth of Jesus took place in real historic time. Our Christian faith is not based on a bunch of ideas and concepts that people came up with apart from any real basis in time. And the church calendar helps us remember those historic events.
The second reason for baptized Christians to follow a church calendar is for teaching purposes. Each season of the church calendar brings to mind specific Christian teachings.
The teachings of the Christmas season are pretty well known. Most of us probably don’t even remember being taught that the birth of Jesus took place as the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior who would save us from our sins, since the teachings of Christmas are so firmly entrenched in our culture.
But what about Epiphany, the season that follows Christmas? Would you be comfortable explaining to a complete stranger what Epiphany is all about?
The word epiphany means revealing. During the Epiphany season we focus on how Jesus revealed his divine glory through his human flesh. Epiphany is the perfect season to follow Christmas because it reveals to us what Jesus’ birth means for us.
It is also a time to celebrate how God reveals to us where his gifts can be found; they are found in Jesus. The two “bookends” Sundays of the Epiphany season are the Sunday of Jesus’ baptism and the Sunday of his transfiguration. On both occasions our heavenly Father speaks from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”
In other words, the entire Epiphany season teaches us that all that God wants to give us is to be found in Jesus, God’s beloved Son. And as Paul says in the passage from Romans 6 quoted above, through Holy Baptism we are connected to Jesus.
Another important teaching of the Epiphany season is that Jesus came to be the Savior of all people. The appointed Gospel reading for January 6, the official start of the Epiphany season, is the story of the wise men coming from a foreign country to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Each of the rest of the seasons of the church calendar also have important things they can teach us.
And the third reason Dr. Murray notes for using a church calendar is to remind us that this life is not an end in itself. Because of the events that happened in real historic time to secure our salvation, we will someday get to spend eternity with the Lord in heaven.
The church calendar started simply by commemorating the “major festivals,” the events of Jesus’ life. As time went on, minor festivals were added to celebrate the lives of the saints. When it came to deciding on which day to commemorate the saints it was decided to go with the day of their death because that is when they were “born” into heaven.
There is a date on the calendar that you will die. God only knows when that will be. Your loved ones will remember you each year on that date. Make sure your loved ones know that, through the life and salvation you have in Jesus Christ, the day of your death is the day of your “birth” into eternity.
The church calendar, then, allows Christians to live in the past, the present and the future. We live in the past as we remember the important historic events of our faith. We live in the present as we see the impact that the events of the past have on our lives. And we live in the future as we await the fulfillment of all that God has promised.
The church calendar is a great way for baptized Christians to remember the historic events of our faith, learn the important teachings of our faith and remind us of the eternal life to come.