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November 28, 2015, 8:55 AM

Happy New (Church) Year! A reflection on you, as God's treasured possession

Today, it begins. A new church year. A group of us at Resurrection will file into the church and decorate for Advent, the month of preparation before the celebration of the twelve days of Christmas.

"This is the month, and this the happy morn," said John Milton, English poet. What we in the church call "the nativity of our Lord"--that happy morning when Mary had given birth to Jesus and realized that the words of the angel had come true. She was truly the handmaiden of God. 

There is little more comforting, beautiful, and holy than these traditions. Yet that is what they are: traditions. Yes, as you may have heard, it's true that Jesus was not actually born on December 25th. This is simply the day set aside by the Church down through the centuries in response to a pagan holiday in the Augustinian month of December. The same is true of All Saints' Day (November 1) and Easter (which, in the West, follows the Spring equinox). No, none of these dates are mandated in Holy Scripture. So, why celebrate them? Wasn't the Church mean spirited to set these over the pagan holidays? 

Well, to put it bluntly, it depends on how you view the confession of the holy faith. Is declaring that Jesus--believing and trusting in His person and work--that he is the only way to heaven a good thing or bad thing? If you answered, "I'm not sure about that," or "a bad thing," then you are likely going to say that setting the holy days over and against the pagan ones is some kind of oppression or patriarchal nonsense. Yet I would ask you to see that God's choosing us is really a "scandalon" (in Greek, scandal in English) for all of us. There is no rhyme or reason, it is all from the mind of God the creator and sustainer of all things. It is just more of the same scandalous choosing that God performed when he took the people of God from the land of Egypt long ago to the Promised Land that was also called Canaan. There was no reason within the Israelites themselves. Consider the Lord's explanation in Deuteronomy 7:6-8,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 

but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt."

When viewed as the Holy Lord calling us out of slavery to sin and bondage to the Devil's will, then the Church Year is a good, resplendent, lively thing. It helps us mark the days and weeks with attention to defeating sin and committing it to death. It helps us rise to new life in Christ. It helps us repent and set our hearts anew. It resets the accusatory nature of the Devil's word to our hearts with the saving, merciful word of God in Christ. 

God in Christ. That is what the Church Year is about. Not traditions first, but the spiritual work of taking our sinful hearts (Matthew 15:19) and boldly confessing the Gospel / good news of salvation that we need so badly.

No matter what, folks, God loves you. You are his treasured possession. Like an old blanket you have, or a picture album from years previous, something valuable to no one else but invaluable and irreplacable to you, its owner. Treasured. Gifted. Holy. The Church. The Church Year. The songs and hymns. The Word of Christ. The grace of God. 


J. Dieterichs

28 November 2015 + Advent I    

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