The Christian Year


Advent    Christmastide    Epiphany    Lent    Eastertide    Pentecost    KingdomtideTop



The Christian Year opens with the Advent season. Advent means “coming” or “arrival”. The season emphasizes expectancy and preparation – expectancy of the coming of Christ and preparation for his coming. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to November 30 (St. Andrew’s Day) and continues for a total of four Sunday’s. The four Sunday’s emphasize in order: His coming through accents upon creation, the Bible, the prophets, and the Forerunner, John the Baptist, His first coming as a baby in Bethlehem, His final coming as judge of the quick and the dead, and His repeated comings to His people in their experiences of need; all are a part of the proclamation of Advent. The color for Advent is purple; it speaks of penitence and is associated with Christ as King, purple being a royal color.

Advent is one of the chief festivals today, but it has not always been so. More emphasis was placed upon the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ in the early stages of church history. It was considered pagan to observe birthdays. Martyrdom caused the church to celebrate the date of death rather than the date of birth of the saints. The origin of Advent was probably in Gaul, possibly Spain or Italy. It was being celebrated in these places by the Fifth Century, and in the Sixth Century was given a permanent place in the church calendar by Gregory the Great. It was in the Ninth Century that it took its present form and place.

Christmastide is the next celebration in the Christian Year and includes from one to two Sunday’s, depending on the day of the week that Christmas Day falls upon. Christmastide is a 12 day festival beginning on Christmas Eve. The emphasis is the incarnation and its relation to the Christian hope. The color used is White, suggesting godhead, purity, joy, and victory.

A separate celebration for the birth of Christ did not appear before the Fourth Century. Until this time it was combined with the celebration of Epiphany, traditionally the time of the baptism of Jesus. The name “Christmas” came into use in the 12th Century; it was a contraction of “Christ’s mass.” There was serious doubt as to the exact date of the birth of Christ; December 25 does not appear in records as the birth date before the middle of the Third Century. It seems that, either consciously or unconsciously, this particular date was chosen to help offset pagan festivals and practice.
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Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.” Attention in the celebration is given to the coming of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus, and the first miracle – the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. The season begins on January 6, the traditional date of the baptism of Jesus, and continues for a period of from four to nine weeks, depending on the date of Easter. The accent in the season is on Jesus Christ as the revealer of God to mankind. The missionary and evangelistic notes are appropriate. The color is green and stands for life and growth.

As stated above, Christmas and Epiphany were for a time combined. When the seasons were separated, Christmas was moved to December 25, and Epiphany remained at January 6. The latter probably arose in the Eastern Church first with the sole emphasis upon the baptism of Jesus. Later it took on the note, or the nativity, through its association with the coming of the Wise Men. In many sections, even in America, Epiphany is still called “Old Christmas.”
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The beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday (in memory of the Old Testament phrase, “sackcloth and ashes,” suggesting deep sorrow and penitence), and continues for 40 days excluding the Sunday’s prior to Easter. The word Lent probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten,” meaning spring. The season calls attention to Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and its notes are those of self-examination, penitence, devotion, and renewal.

Two weeks in Lent are given special significance. The first is Passion Week. It runs from Passion Sunday (two Sunday’s before Easter) through Palm Sunday Eve. The second special week in Lent is Holy Week and runs from Palm Sunday (one Sunday before Easter) through Easter Eve. There are special days in Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (Maundy is derived from the Latin for “command,” from Christ’s command to His disciples in the Upper Room on Thursday evening before His crucifixion on Friday) and Good Friday, emphasizing the death of Christ. The color for Lent is Purple, the same as for Advent. The one exception is Good Friday, whose color is Black signifying death.

A form of Lent, of preparation for Easter, was practiced as early as the Second Century. At first it was for a period of 40 hours, equal to the time Christ spent in the tomb. Then the time was lengthened to six days, and finally to 40 days, the 40 days representing the 40 years the children of Israel spent in the wilderness, the 40 days Moses spent on the mount, the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness, and the 40 hours He spent in the tomb. “Sunday’s in Lent” indicates that Sunday’s are not actually a part of Lent. Sunday is a feast day, a “Little Easter,” always; therefore, only weekdays are counted in Lent.
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This great season in the Christian Year begins with Easter Sunday and continues for 50 days until Pentecost. It was the earliest of the seasons in point of development. Its great event is the risen Christ. The risen Christ and the reigning Lord are the bugle notes that are sounded throughout the season. Easter is the most important of all the Christian celebrations. It was this that transformed the disciples from doubting, fearful men into a triumphant band; it transformed the Passover celebration into the resurrection celebration; it brought into being the church. The color is White, the same as for Christmas, signifying godhead, joy, and victory. The season includes Ascension Day and Ascension Sunday; Ascension Day is 40 days after the resurrection. The date of Easter was set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21st. Easter, therefore, may be anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th.
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Pentecost begins on the 50th day after Easter, the seventh Sunday. It lasts for 12 to 17 Sunday’s. The season emphasizes the coming of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus gathered in Jerusalem. It is usually called “The Birthday of the Church.” It is one of the very important seasons of the church and was celebrated early in the life of the church. The emphasis throughout the church is one of missions and victory. The color is Red, symbolizing the tongues as of fire that descended upon the disciples.
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This is the newest of the seasons, dating no farther back than the late thirties; there are many Protestant groups that have not accepted it. The season of Kingdomtide gives place for due attention to the eternal presence of Christ and His kingship, with the parallel emphasis upon man’s stewardship. Its color is Green or White.

Kingdomtide begins on the last Sunday in August and runs to Advent. Its emphasis is the kingship of Christ. The note is on His kingdom as it challenges men in their daily lives and every area of their existence.

And so the Christian Year comes to a close and begins again.
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