Happy New Year!
Probably not what you were expecting to hear on the last Sunday in November, in which much of the world is still winding down Thanksgiving and gearing up for Christmas. But the Church does not operate on the secular calendar, rather it operates on its own calendar: one that focuses on the life of Christ as opposed to that of sales and profit lines.
Today, the Church Year starts anew with our anticipation of His first coming in the Bethlehem manger. This first half of the Church Year will follow Jesus from His conception to birth to life and ultimately His suffering and death and resurrection. The second half of the Church Year focuses on His teachings.
For most congregations, the only noticeable change from one Church Year to the next is the change in the Lectionary from Series A and its dominant Gospel of St. Matthew, to Series B and its dominant Gospel of St. Mark and St. John.
But how will you mark this change in the Church Year? I doubt many people are having parties to mark the change; few congregations will pay much notice to the calendar change outside of the assigned readings. As with most years, the change in this particular calendar will go by without much notice.
But as we begin a new Church Year, might I make a humble suggestion that the Church borrow from the secular world as it marks the beginning of a new year: resolutions. But not resolutions in the common sense of losing weight or working less, but rather spiritual resolutions.
What better time to resolve to renew one’s devotional life then now, when special Advent devotionals abound. What better time to begin attending Bible Class then now, when many congregations are beginning new studies focusing on Christmas. How about a renewed emphasis on one’s prayer life by praying The Litany during Advent? The shortness of Advent makes the goal easily achievable, and yet the repetitive nature is just long enough to make it habit forming.
But the individual is not the only one who can benefit from some New Church Year resolutions, why not the congregation as well?
A congregation can easily resolve to learn a new hymn during each season of the Church Year, beginning with some of the amazing Advent hymns contained in Lutheran Service Book. A congregation can also resolve to support a new missionary during the coming year. Using a longer term outlook, a renewed emphasis on prospects or in-actives would also be beneficial for a congregation to undertake in the coming year.
The benefits of these resolutions are only for the positive: a deepening and strengthening of faith is never a bad thing in the life of the Christian. And when faith is strengthened, it is the devil who is the loser in that there are fewer and fewer places he can hide and attack Christ’s Church.
This New Church Year provides a great many opportunities for the Church to begin the Year anew; to distinguish itself from the rest of the world as not being of the world. But if these resolutions made in late November become like those made in early January, the Church always looks back to the cross, the only source of forgiveness, life and salvation.