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“Every eye shall now behold Him, robed in dreadful majesty.”

Charles Wesley

As we navigate our way through the course of the next year, I’m planning to feature posts on the Church Calendar.  I find that using the Calendar is a tremendous way to keep ourselves in tune with the life of Christ as we carry on through the daily grind of our own lives.  In and of itself, the Church Calendar is just a road map that carries us through the life story of Christ, from the anticipation of His birth all the way through His death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The use of the Church Calendar challenges us to think about time in a new and different way.  Shaping the ebb and flow of our lives around it transforms our minds, and is a spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1-2).  Hope y’all enjoy my thoughts on the Church year, and that you might make it a tool in your own spiritual life.

As the Church becomes more and more like the world, it seems that we give most of our focus to the same Christian holidays that the world acknowledges…Christmas and Easter.  Fact is, though, the other seasons of the Church year are very significant, and Christmas and Easter just aren’t quite the same without the seasons that surround them. Think about it…without Advent, which is just before Christmas, there is no Israel waiting for their Messiah to come, and Christ’s birth loses its meaning. Without Epiphany, there are no Shepherds coming to visit this child, acknowledging that He is the king that was prophesied by Isaiah and many others.  Without Easter, with the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The Church Calendar binds together the Gospel narrative into a package that we can apply to our own daily lives.  It helps to consider every day as something sacred; to live out our ordinary routines in the divine light of story of Christ.

In CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”,  it was always winter in Narnia, but never Christmas.  There would be no Christmas in Narnia until the saviour king, Aslan, came to take his rightful place on the throne.   Obviously, it was a difficult time for the inhabitants of Narnia, but also a time of much anticipation of the return of the king.  Prior to the coming of Christ, life was the same for the people of Israel.  They waited anxiously for their Messiah, the King that would set them free from the bondage of dark and cruel forces.

When Christ was born, it had been 400 years since they had heard a word from God. Prior to that, there were always messengers telling them that the Messiah was on his way, from Samuel to Daniel to Isaiah to Hosea;  but for 400 years, from Malachi to Matthew,  the God who had been so ever-present in the Exodus story, who had rescued prophets from the mouths of lions, shamed the priests of false gods in visible and tangible ways, made the sun stand still in times of battle for all to see, and spoke audibly to His chosen people, said nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

This was Israel’s long, difficult winter.

There was nothing the people of Israel could do but hope and believe, and it was this faith, the anticipation of something that they couldn’t fathom or taste or see or wrap their brains around, that kept them going from day to day. Faith that their King was His way to set them free, and change everything.

Like the people of Israel, we spend Advent, which literally means “coming”, waiting to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, the Messiah.  We often forget, though, that for Christians, Advent is a time for us to await with great anticipation and hope the return our King.  Our Aslan, Jesus, is the King Who Was, the King Who Is, is also the King Who Is Coming.  Advent is a time for us to not only reflect on the coming celebration of Christ’s birth in the manger, but to consider and hope for His triumphant return.

Our Lady of the New Advent
(artist unknown)

The season of Advent is comprised of the four Sundays before Christmas Day.  For the Jews, it was a time of waiting on the Messiah.  For Christians, we not only await the birthday of Christ, but we anticipate His return.  It’s a time of hope and faith for all believers.

Advent was first known as St. Martin’s Lent.  Christmas first appeared on the Church Calendar around 300 AD, and by 400 AD, St. Martin’s Lent was widely recognized by Christians.  It was a time of active waiting.  Being a dad of two little red-haired girls, both under the age of 3 years old, I understand active waiting.  When my wife and I were dating, preparing for a night out usually involved me sitting on the couch, watching television while she got ready.  Today, if we’re “waiting” to go out, nobody is sitting around.  There are a million things to do:  getting the diaper bag together, getting clean diapers and clothes on the girls, brushing hair and teeth, chasing them around when they pull off their clothes and diapers, putting them back on, etc.  I have truly learned what active waiting is all about over the past 3 years!  St. Martin’s Lent was a time of active waiting:  One would repent of sins, fast, go to confession, do good works, and pray for Christ’s return.  It wasn’t a time for sitting back and doing nothing!  It was time to prepare for the coming of our King.

In the Anglican tradition, the Sunday before Advent is called “Stir Up Sunday”, based on Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.   The traditional prayer for Stir Up Sunday comes from the Book of Common Prayer, and is as follows:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Now, there is a good and sticky part to Stir Up Sunday, as well.  If you were going to be fasting for an extended period of time in 400AD, it made sense to take anything that might go bad while you were not eating the tasty stuff, and whip it into something delicious.  The end result of that was Christmas pudding, or what we might call fruit cake.  Over time, some groups began to celebrate Stir Up Sunday on the third Sunday of Advent.  No one is really sure why, but my theory is these folks didn’t have any refrigerators, so the Christmas pudding would be rotten before it was time for the Christmas feast.  There ain’t nothing worse than a rotten fruit cake.

Welcome to the Lee Adams School of Theology.

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Continuing my thoughts and opinions on what I believe the evolution of the church is going to look like over the next twenty years, I’ve compared it to hash, the kind of stew my grandfather used to make in a big black pot over a hot fire in the backyard when the mornings got cold enough for hog-killin’ in the fall.  I’ve identified a couple of spices that I believe are going to define the distinct flavor of the church over the aforementioned time span, starting with Ministry as a ‘Career’ vs. ‘Calling’, a look at the idea that because of difficult economic times, we’re going to see more home-grown, bi-vocational pastors in the future.  There’s a less-than-subtle suggestion in there that pastors who are planting churches might do well to stop looking at target audiences, and attempting to style a worship experience to suit them, and instead look at the primary occupation of their target audience, and work in that type of field, in addition to being a pastor.  This would give a pastor more insight into the daily joys and struggles their community faces.

I’ve also considered The Evangelical Response to Growth in Orthodox Denominations, stating my belief that as orthodox movements become more visible and popular, we’re going to see some of our churches be against the movement, living in the same paranoid suspicion that many evangelicals have had for Catholics and other traditionally orthodox groups for generationsSome evangelical churches will adhere to some aspects of orthodox worship,  taking on liturgical practices in their worship services because they see it as the “hot” thing to do during worship, a tool for reaching those who are hipsters, or whatever they will be calling twenty-somethings in ten to twenty years.  Others will adopt orthodox tradition, fully becoming a part of denominational groups like the Anglican Church of North America, or the Orthodox Church in America.

Today, I’ll explore the current revival in liturgical practices, and attempt to answer the key question, “Are liturgical practices here to stay?” 

My illustrious grandfather, Boscoe Fouche (so nick-named because the doctor that delivered him suggested it, as he had just been to the carnival in Athens and witnessed the wonder of “Boscoe the Amazing Snake-Eatin’ Man”), would make a fresh pot of stew every year when the weather got cool enough.  As a young boy anxious to assist my Papa in any way, I had two jobs when it was time to make hash.  One was to stay out of the fire.  I believe that task was actually assigned by my mother, with several threats attached, some involving disfigurement and bruising.

My other job, and the one I loved the most, was to stir the pot.  If my memory serves me proper, and my older siblings will surely correct me if it doesn’t, he had a stick that somewhat resembled a small version of a boat oar, made of hickory, that was used for stirring the pot.  Shoot, I must have really loved the job, because I’ve been stirring the pot ever since.

The word “liturgy” is Greek in origin, and means “work of the people”.  Liturgy is composed of those things we do on Sunday morning, offered up as a cumulative expression of thanksgiving to God.  I, for one, believe that liturgy, or the work we do as an expression of thanksgiving to God, extends beyond the church doors, but this is a subject for another day.  Every church has a liturgy, even the most contemporary ones.  Liturgy is simply the order in which things are done.  The liturgical revival that is happening today, the one I’m such a fan of, is a return to an ancient, “traditional” way of doing Sunday morning worship.  As I’ve said in previous posts, for me, it has nothing to do with music style or genre, but everything to do with having a pattern of worship with depth and substance.

That being said, if the other ideas I’m considering in this series are the spices in this pot of hash we’re watching being made, I would suppose that liturgy is the stirring of the pot…It’s how we actually, actively, “do church”.  And in many circles, the way church is done is looking a lot less like the seeker-friendly movement we evangelicals have embraced for the past couple of decades, and more like it did in the earliest days of Christianity as an institution.

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