The weeks before Christmas have been called “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year.” In fact, Christmas is surrounded by wonderful seasons that often pass unnoticed, but they are filled with significance. For people who have not observed this ancient calendar, a lectionary is quite useful. Here is an overview of the seasons that surround Christmas and their dates in the current Christian calendar year:
SEASON OF ADVENT (December 1–24, 2019)
The Christian Year begins with Advent. It is a time of imaginatively remembering what life was like before Jesus Christ came into the world—a solemn but mysterious time of yearning and hope. During Advent, the Church in each age has spiritually joined ancient Israel in awaiting and anticipating the Messiah. Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” During this season, Christians focus on Old Testament prophecies. Whereas the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany always fall on the same dates, the dates for Advent depend on what day of the week Christmas falls on. Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas Day.
Churches and Christian families have developed diverse ways of observing Advent, but one widespread practice is to successively light a candle representing Hope, Faith, Joy, and Peace on each of the Sundays and a fifth “Christ” candle on Christmas. The candles are any color, but the third week’s “Joy” candle is usually pink or purple to evoke gaiety.
SEASON OF CHRISTMAS(December 25, 2019–January 5, 2020)
The Christmas Season begins on Christmas day and lasts 12 days—hence “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Many Christians enjoy a profound experience of worship as they shift dramatically in real time from the anticipation of Advent to the wonder of Christmas during a Christmas Eve watch night. Highly liturgical churches are often filled with worshipers at midnight, Christmas Eve. Christians around the world gather to share this celebration together. The Christmas Season focuses on narratives of Jesus’ incarnation and birth—Luke 2 being a favorite.
SEASON OF EPIPHANY (January 6–February 25, 2020)
Epiphany comes from a Greek word that means “appearing,” and it is when Christians celebrate Christ Jesus’ introduction to the public, especially to the nations (Gentiles). His first public appearance was the Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2), so the Feast of Epiphany is when that visit is recognized in the Church (January 6). In some traditions it is referred to as Three Kings Day (El Día de los Reyes in Latin America) and is at least as important as Christmas in terms of celebration and gift–giving. Other public appearances, such as Jesus’ baptism, are also noted during this season. Epiphany leads to Ash Wednesday (February 26, 2020) and the Season of Lent (February 26–April 9, 2020).
by Isaiah Allen
What’s the Revised Common Lectionary?
This is the lectionary used by many churches today. It follows the Christian Year in a three–year cycle (Year A, Year B, and Year C). This allows churches to include substantial readings from the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), while readings from John’s Gospel are sprinkled throughout each year.
2019 is Year A of the three–year cycle. What a great time to start following it!
Definition: A lectionary is a list of Scripture passages to read on specific dates and occasions.
Resource: The Revised Common Lectionary and a wealth of appropriate resources for worship, including artwork, are available free–of–charge from the Vanderbilt University Library at the following address: lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu.