“We live…in a day of metaphor. Our world is run by the images of consumerism, self-gratification, autonomy, the life of the rich and the famous, and so on. We have allowed these metaphors and images to shape our Christian experience and church. For Christianity to become healthy once again and to be what it is called to be, we need new metaphors” – David Bunker
Time matters. And the way we keep time matters. The days we celebrate and set aside as holy matter. Like tectonic plates which, though unseen, shape the face of the planet, our calendar – our days, seasons, and years – form us.
Our calendars are not just convenient ways to make plans. They tell a story, provide a framework for our lives, remind us of what’s important, and encourage us to value certain things.
Think of our modern, American calendars. What happens on Independence Day? Memorial Day? Thanksgiving? Black Friday? They’re just days, right? Wrong. I mean, sure, July 4 is no different from July 3 or July 5 – at least on the face of it. But when we infuse these days with meaning and symbolism, they’re transformed into more than mere days.
They become transformative.
We’re Formed by Our Calendar
God understood this. It’s the reason he gave Israel their yearly celebrations – the Day of Atonement, the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s the reason he commanded them to keep the Sabbath. It’s even one of the reasons he created the sun, moon, and stars (see Genesis 1:14). The way we keep time matters.
This is a truth that has been left unrealized in the lives of many Evangelical Christians. Most Christians I know only actively celebrate Christmas and Easter. For some, it’s only Easter. Any sense of a ‘Christian calendar’ has been completely lost. Instead, we allow the academic calendar or the sporting calendar or the civil calendar or any number of other calendars to shape our lives. We give these secular calendars authority over us – whether we acknowledge it or not. And they’re more than happy to form us into their image.
But if we don’t belong to the kingdoms of this world, why should we keep time as if we do? Why should we celebrate their holy days as if we share their values?
We may not even realize it, but the calendar we follow is teaching us. If you don’t believe me, just think about it for a moment.
What does our culture tell us to value through the celebration of Independence Day? Veteran’s Day? St Patrick’s Day? Et cetera.
Some of the things we learn from these celebrations are good. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should just throw everything out. But I do believe we need to recognize that time matters. The things we celebrate and the way we celebrate them change us. And if this is true, shouldn’t we, as Christians, be very careful and intentional about what we do and don’t celebrate?
The Christian Calendar
I believe that the Christian calendar has much to recommend itself. I know there are a lot of Protestants who shudder at the sound of words like ‘Advent’, ‘Epiphany’, ‘All Saint’s Day’, and ‘Lent.’ I can already hear the cries of “But those things are Catholic!”
But hold on.
Let me ask you a question.
Do you accept the 27 books of the New Testament as truly the word of God?
And can you tell me why?
I’ll tell you why: Church tradition.
Without a doubt, I accept the 27 New Testament books that we have in our Bibles as canonical; yet, many of the seasons and holy days celebrated within the Christian calendar date earlier than our first complete list of canonical books. If I am willing to accept the second and third century church’s witness regarding the canonicity of scripture, why would I not also accept (or at least consider) the days that they set aside as holy feast and fast days?
I’m not saying that the Christian calendar is on par with scripture or that it’s necessary for salvation. I’m not even saying it makes people better Christians.
Instead, all I’m saying is this: the Christian calendar has a rich tradition that goes back to the very earliest centuries of Christian history.
And if we realize the way a calendar can shape a people, wouldn’t it make sense for us to want the most clearly Christian kind of calendar we could possibly have?
The minute someone starts talking about celebrating certain holy days, some will cry “Legalism!” or some such other nonsense. But I’m not talking about making any of these days the basis of our salvation. Christ alone can save. Instead, what I want us to realize is that the way we keep time matters. The days we celebrate matter.
And if we recognize the value in secular holy days, why wouldn’t we also recognize the value in religious ones?
Some of the people who are most against seasons like Advent and Lent are also the first to demand the church celebrate civil holidays that have nothing to do with our faith.
I hope that you’ll approach the next few posts with an open mind – especially if you’ve always written these kinds of things off.
So please, give me an opportunity to change your mind.
A Final Caveat
So, there’s been a great deal of misinformation concerning the origin and development of these seasons and days. In his book, The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop goes so far as to say that, of the feasts celebrated by the Roman Catholic church, “each and all of these can be proved to be Babylonian” (pg. 91). Hislop claims to show how Easter, Christmas, and the various seasons of the Christian calendar are all pagan in origin.
In the posts that follow this one, I’ll attempt to show you that this simply isn’t true.
The Christian Calendar is not paganism in disguise.
Instead, it is what it is: A Christian way to tell time.
The way we keep time matters.
Our calendars should reflect that fact.