Today is the first Sunday of Advent, which is New Year’s Day for the Church. Today is when we start telling the story again, the story of how Jesus Christ fulfilled the story of Israel in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and how we now live with him by the Spirit and await his final return.
Every year we tell the story again, basically because we need to immerse ourselves in it, because it is the true story of the world. It is the report of what God is doing in the world to redeem and restore all things, the proclamation of how God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.
We immerse ourselves in this story every year because our identities come from the stories we tell and the rituals we participate in. We immerse ourselves in this story because our culture loudly proclaims quite a few alternative stories that vie to tell us who we are, and thus claim our allegiance. Some of those stories (from McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel):
- Individualism — the story that “I” am the center of the universe
- Consumerism — the story that I am what I own
- Nationalism — the story that my nation is God’s nation
- Moral relativism — the story that we can’t know what is universally good
- Scientific naturalism — the story that all that matters is matter
- New Age — the story that we are gods
- Postmodern tribalism — the story that all that matters is what my small group thinks
- Salvation by therapy — the story that I can come to my full human potential through inner exploration
We combat these competing ideologies by immersing ourselves in the True Story, which is another name for the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why it matters what holidays we celebrate, and how we celebrate them. Our very identities are stake, because we live by the stories we tell ourselves. Thus it is actually a matter of life and death.
There’s nothing magical about celebrating the church year. There are plenty of lifeless churches that commemorate Advent “faithfully” (i.e. read the right Scriptures, fly the right colors, stick to the right themes). But the church year is essentially organizing time around the gospel story, which seems like a great idea to me, because the alternative to organizing time around the life of Christ is to organize it around something else, like when it’s time to shop, which is a disastrous way to live.
So may you immerse ourselves in the True Story once again, and have a blessed Advent! Come, Lord Jesus!