We should improve by recognizing rather than completely ignoring certain other occasions of the Church Year. If this had been done historically, a huge benefit could have been the impeding of rampant secularism. Our culture makes much of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Halloween, for example, but they are totally ignorant when it comes to Ascension or Pentecost, and do little regarding Easter apart from bunnies and eggs.
By “we” I basically mean those of us who as Christians are not in one of the ancient Churches (Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, various Orthodox, Roman, etc.) or in the Anglican or Lutheran traditions. There are 35,000 denominations in the world though obviously the number, whatever it is, constantly changes with splits, mergers, start-ups and terminations. Then there are the countless independents and mavericks. Although “we” as I use it here are fewer as individuals (in global statistics) than those in the Christian traditions I am excluding, we do account for almost all of the 35,000 denominations and all non-denominational churches. Why do I say we should improve? Although I am sure that we could do so in various ways, only one is my focus here.
As I write this it is early January but I am listening to glorious Christmas music on KFUO radio, a station of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This is possible because for them Christmas does not end at midnight on December 25. It lasts until January 5, which in (pre-medieval) Europe came to commemorate the visit of the magi to Bethlehem. Incidentally, decades ago I read a fine commentary on Matthew that suggested perhaps there were fourteen magi and, along with their entourage, entering Jerusalem naturally got everyone’s attention in a big way. The idea of three, of course, stems simply from the mentioning of three gifts.
The independent church where I grew up sang a few of the eleven carols in The Service Hymnal (thankfully the Trinity Hymnal has 41) on the few Sundays preceding Christmas. Advent was never mentioned and no special services were held during the season (apart from an unrelated New Year’s Eve service). In the United States Christmas was not even a national holiday until 1870 (seven years after Thanksgiving). In seminary in the 1960s we had a Presbyterian who was appalled that there was a Christmas tree in the lobby and refused to have his own family even take note of the holiday (well, apart from his not having classes). Although his position was not unlike that of some—not all—of our forebearers, we pitied his wife and children at Christmas. The PCA church we attend has a wonderful Christmas Eve service and also observes Advent, although only somewhat recently did I learn that the Second Advent of our Lord is at least as much the focus of Advent as is His incarnation. That is the reason repentance is central (as reflected in three of the four wreath candles being purple).
We should improve by recognizing rather than completely ignoring certain other occasions of the Church Year. If this had been done historically, a huge benefit could have been the impeding of rampant secularism. Our culture makes much of Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Halloween, for example, but they are totally ignorant when it comes to Ascension or Pentecost, and do little regarding Easter apart from bunnies and eggs. Good Friday is not a holiday at all and some of our seminaries even held classes thereon at least until somewhat recently. At Army chaplain school I attended the Protestant service each morning, but catching wind that it was Ascension Thursday (marking 40 days after Easter) I went to the Catholic service where all the Scripture readings and everything pertained to our Lord’s Ascension. Asking a friend how the Protestant service was, I learned that after a couple of unrelated hymns the preacher’s focus was on how great it was that he became a chaplain.
James C. Pakala is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he is a Retired Chaplain, Army National Guard, and volunteer police chaplain.