How We Mark Our Year

We all have ways that we mark the year. Living in Minnesota, the most obvious markers throughout the year are the dramatic changes of each season. Budding flowers and flourishing greenery conquer winter. Summer heat and humidity give way to the brilliant colors of the Minnesota autumn. Autumn is soon blanketed by snow, indicating that winter has again arrived. Each seasons brings with it different rhythms, activities, and moods. We wear seasonally appropriate clothing, our menus and appetites change, and we embrace the different feels of each season — from the desire to slow-down and stay inside where it’s cozy and warm in the winter, to the fast-paced, always active, on-the-go nature of the summer. 

Of course, there are other ways we mark the year. For those of you who are students or who have school-aged children, the academic calendar sets the majority of your rhythms and routines. For sports fans, the Vikings or Twins schedules can determine how your weeknights and Sunday afternoons will be spent. Or, for many of us, we naturally discern where we’re at in the year by the decorations and goodies that the seasonal isles of Target are filled with. 

Now, we may not give a lot of thought to how we mark our years, but the dates we fill our calendars with and the seasons we choose to participate in both reveal and shape our desires. Our calendars orient us to the world and they tell us and those who know us what days and events are important and notable.

The early church fathers recognized the formative power of our calendars, so they developed a calendar that would immerse Christians in the events and seasons of the gospel story all year long. 

The liturgical year starts with Advent, a season of longing and anticipation for the coming of Jesus. Advent ushers in the season of Christmas and Epiphany, which celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises in the manifestation of Jesus. Lent marks the temptation, suffering, and ultimately the death of Jesus. Easter then is the celebration of the resurrection — the death-destroying, sin-conquering life of Jesus. Finally, Pentecost celebrates the Father’s sending of the Holy Spirit and creation of us — the Spirit-filled church of Jesus.

Like the seasonal year, inherent to the church calendar is an ebb and flow: a season of feasting followed by a season of fasting; a season of sorrow reciprocated by a season of celebration; a season of darkness that gives way to a season of light. The contrast here is intentional and is intended to help us physically experience and thereby live our lives in the tension of the already/not yet of the Christian life. We know that we are saved by Jesus, forgiven of all our sin, accepted and fully loved God. And, at the same time, we are still being saved by Jesus as we are in the process of experiencing greater freedom from our sin and our lives are being brought in every increasing conformity to his as we await his return. The church calendar helps us truly live in this tension.

This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent: a 40-day season of intentional prayer, fasting, and acts of service through which we aim to identify with Jesus in his suffering. Next week I’ll give another exhortation specifically on fasting and the invitation to get more of God by intentionally going without other good things. 

For this week, my exhortation is simply this: consider the calendars that order your life by asking yourself what are your weeks, months, and year fundamentally organized around? As Christians, let’s not mindlessly allow the world to determine how we order and arrange our year. Instead, let’s be intentional in bringing the gospel of Jesus to bear upon, appropriately interrupt, and orient every aspect of our lives — including the structure of our year, beginning with the next 40 days of Lent. 

On Ash Wednesday this week, I’ll post a guide on our website that I have created to help us consider ways to bring new routines and structures into our schedules to mark the season of Lent and engage in fresh communion with Jesus. I encourage you to talk with your family, roommates, Life Group, and Community Group members about how together you can make changes in your calendar to have a greater experience and mindfulness of the Gospel of Jesus. 

Prayer of Confession

Father, your Word tells us to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and that whatever we do, in word or deed, we are to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to you, Father, through him.

We confess this morning that the word of Christ does not dwell in us as richly as it ought and that far too often we fail to live for your glory. We are a fickle people and our hearts are idol factories, constantly creating and looking to things and people apart from you for purpose, significance, meaning, and joy. Father, this is a great evil, and we know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst then our prayers will be ineffectual, so we silently confess our individual sins to you now.

Father, would you grant us the grace now to bear fruit in keeping with our repentance. By your Holy Spirit, would you help us to build our lives ever more firmly upon Jesus, who is our Rock. Help us to orient our days, weeks, months, and years around him — for that is what you have created us for. To live our lives in and through and unto Jesus. We ask for this grace in the name of the one who loves us and gave himself for us, amen.