Living in two times

The post about “Happy New Year,” referring to the beginning of Advent and asking about why the last days of the church year aren’t really noted, made me realize that the church year is not supposed to cover everything.  Christians are under two calendars, just as they live their lives in two times.  There is the secular calendar, the time of the world, that progresses from season to season, along with its distinct cultural and national holidays, such as in the USA Independence Day and Thanksgiving.   And then there is the liturgical calendar, commemorating the life of Christ and of the Church.  The church calendar is superimposed on the secular calendar.  Christians participate in them both, just as they participate in both of God’s Kingdoms, His hidden rule over all of the created secular order and His revealed spiritual rule in Christ as manifested in the Church.

We shouldn’t follow the church calendar alone, rejecting the secular calendar,  with its pagan nomenclature from Roman and Germanic deities (January from the two-faced god Janus; Wodin’s day, Thors’ day, Freya’s day), since we must live out our faith in this world.  Nor should we follow the secular calendar alone, since Christ became incarnate in time.  Sometimes the two time sequences counter each other, such as one of the most joyous days of the church year–Christmas– comes at the gloomiest point of winter.  Sometimes they complement each other, as when the other most joyous day of the church year–Easter–comes at one of the most joyous times of the secular calendar, the season of Spring.  And sometimes the church calendar crosses over into the cultural calendar, as Christmas does, just as Christianity has influenced the cultures in which it finds itself, and as Christ did when He became incarnate in human history.

So Christians can celebrate the new church year, beginning with Advent, which–as my pastor explained today–seamlessly follows the end of Pentecost, which also looks forward to Christ’s return.  The church year is cyclical.  It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.  Ironically, the secular calendar does count the number of years from the time of Christ, as the years forge linearly ahead.  So Christians can also celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day when the secular calendar turns over.  Christians live in two times, just as they live in two kingdoms.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://concordiaandkoinonia.wordpress.com/ Rev. Mark Schroeder

    “It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.” I think there is an educational purpose to the church year. So instead of “re-enacting”, “teaching” and “preaching” Christ. “Re-enacting” gets one into metaphysical and even theological problems, as in the Holy Communion “re-enacts” the atonement, whereas the Holy Communion gives us the fruit of the once-for-all Atonement for us all. The church year proclaims the one God in three Persons in His creating, redeeming and sanctifying is not for us to re-enact but for us to be forgiven and renewed in His Word.

  • http://concordiaandkoinonia.wordpress.com/ Rev. Mark Schroeder

    “It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.” I think there is an educational purpose to the church year. So instead of “re-enacting”, “teaching” and “preaching” Christ. “Re-enacting” gets one into metaphysical and even theological problems, as in the Holy Communion “re-enacts” the atonement, whereas the Holy Communion gives us the fruit of the once-for-all Atonement for us all. The church year proclaims the one God in three Persons in His creating, redeeming and sanctifying is not for us to re-enact but for us to be forgiven and renewed in His Word.

  • Susan

    One of the nicest discussions I’ve ever had involved talking with a non-Lutheran believer as to the function of the church year. With Advent through the Day of Pentecost focusing on the earthly life of our Savior, and the Pentecost season focusing on the life of the Church Universal until the Second Advent, that information can be a powerful tool in helping others to see that Christ, not us or political events or cultural trends, is the focus of Scripture, and that His Second Advent will usher in the eternal, blissful state of praising Him, rather than a limited, fleshly millennium.

    I do wonder why the Church Year seems to get rather short shrift in our churches.

  • Susan

    One of the nicest discussions I’ve ever had involved talking with a non-Lutheran believer as to the function of the church year. With Advent through the Day of Pentecost focusing on the earthly life of our Savior, and the Pentecost season focusing on the life of the Church Universal until the Second Advent, that information can be a powerful tool in helping others to see that Christ, not us or political events or cultural trends, is the focus of Scripture, and that His Second Advent will usher in the eternal, blissful state of praising Him, rather than a limited, fleshly millennium.

    I do wonder why the Church Year seems to get rather short shrift in our churches.

  • Susan

    Oops meant to ask why instruction in the purpose and course of the Church Year tends to be neglected in our churches. I don’t recall the pastor ever talking about it when DH and I underwent adult confirmation instruction.

  • Susan

    Oops meant to ask why instruction in the purpose and course of the Church Year tends to be neglected in our churches. I don’t recall the pastor ever talking about it when DH and I underwent adult confirmation instruction.

  • Rose

    I wonder why Sunday’s Gospel was still on End Times, not the Annunciation or John the Baptist.

  • Rose

    I wonder why Sunday’s Gospel was still on End Times, not the Annunciation or John the Baptist.

  • SKPeterson

    Rose – Advent is that time of preparation – for the Incarnate Christ in the manger, and for the Resurrected Christ at the Eschaton.

  • SKPeterson

    Rose – Advent is that time of preparation – for the Incarnate Christ in the manger, and for the Resurrected Christ at the Eschaton.

  • helen

    Our Gospel was on the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, on a colt, as Israel’s kings did, which, if the people knew their Scriptures, (and the crowd did) established Him as the Son of David.

    We remember the Christ in the manger as an anniversary of an historic fact. He will not come there again but it led to the Christ on the cross and the resurrection and, as SKP says, guarantees His return in the end times. Meanwhile we also prepare for His coming to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
    We make this last preparation all year round; perhaps Advent reminds us to devote a little more time and thought to it. Some Lutherans also choose to prepare in Advent by fasting; they may donate the cost of the meals given up to a local food pantry. (There was some discussion of this on Weedon’s blog.)

  • helen

    Our Gospel was on the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, on a colt, as Israel’s kings did, which, if the people knew their Scriptures, (and the crowd did) established Him as the Son of David.

    We remember the Christ in the manger as an anniversary of an historic fact. He will not come there again but it led to the Christ on the cross and the resurrection and, as SKP says, guarantees His return in the end times. Meanwhile we also prepare for His coming to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
    We make this last preparation all year round; perhaps Advent reminds us to devote a little more time and thought to it. Some Lutherans also choose to prepare in Advent by fasting; they may donate the cost of the meals given up to a local food pantry. (There was some discussion of this on Weedon’s blog.)


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