Monday, January 1, 2007
The Tale of Two Calendars
I'll admit I succumbed to the secular calendar last night. For those who keep up with the church's calendar, you know that today is the Circumcision of Our Lord. I tried to celebrate that festival early in my ministry. People were tolerant. But then they were tolerant of many things in those years from an inexperienced fresh-out-of-the-seminary preacher in an established mission with a certain transient congregation. My mother-in-law (a lifelong Lutheran) was kind in telling me that she had never heard anyone preach on that before. I think she left it at that.
I did put a note on the back of the bulletin explaining the difference between the two calendars and the significance of the circumcision. A few probably read it as an interesting piece of trivia. It would have been a really tough sell trying to use New Year's Eve to preach on this, however. Perhaps a better preacher might make this work with today's typical Lutheran parish, but I'm not sure I know how. Zion in Detroit - yeh, they could get away with it. But the 'typical' Lutheran parish? Sometimes you simply meet people where they are and preach the Word even if it isn't the established pericope.
Still, don't think that I am in any way advocating the abandonment of the church's historic calendar. I believe that the church should observe time differently. Take Advent, for example. The rest of the world was full-swing into Christmas all the time the church was preparing for a worthy moment of reverent worship of the miracle of the incarnation. I refuse to let the world dictate how we acknowledge such an important event in our faith.
The church's calendar also reminds us that the events that most define our life and times center on the life and work of our Lord Jesus. Each year we work through the life of our Lord from the prophesy of his birth through his glorious resurrection. Every year we trace the same steps. This is critical, especially in our time. For how many of our people regularly review the scriptures on these points? The discipline of the lectionary may be the one opportunity we have to keep the truths of Christ before our people on any consistent basis.
Finally, the tension between the calendars is helpful too. We are in the world but not of it. As we enter into the church each Sunday we are reminded that we are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, as the book of Hebrews reminds us. Time for the Christian takes on a different tone when you are looking well beyond your retirement and eventual death to the glorious return of Christ and the resurrection of all flesh.
And the circumcision - Is there a place for that? Yes. It may not be a major event, but it reminds us today, at the beginning of a new year, that one of the first milestones of our Lord's life, even while still an infant, was the fulfillment of the entire law on our behalf. This is, technically speaking, part of the plan of salvation. Here He allows himself to be subject to the Law, to live under it for our sake. He did for us in perfection what we would always fail at.
In this new year we will fail again and again and again. If we were without faith this could lead to depression and ultimate despair. But we are Christ's people who know that each failure into sin drives us to our Lord to pray for his forgiveness. There, before Him who shed his blood on our behalf (even in a small amount at his circumcision), we find mercy and new hope. Time and life in the end must be lived in Christ.
Happy New Year to all! And a blessed Circumcision!