Advent, Christmas, & Epiphany

As many believers know, the Christian Church’s liturgical calendar is broken down into three cycles. The Christmas cycle that we are in now includes the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. The second cycle is the Easter cycle which includes the seasons of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The post-Pentecostal cycle begins on Trinity Sunday and runs through to Advent. Growing up through high school in the church, I was never taught these seasons. In fact, I don’t think my church ever even used the word liturgical. So I realize there is a need to simply communicate to the body time and time again who we really are.

Advent – The liturgical year begins with Advent, a word that means “coming” – this is Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem. Now Advent includes His coming among us now in Word and in sacrament, and His promised second coming at the end of the age. The first hour of the Advent Sundays is the Sunday always nearest to November 30.

Christmas – Now only a few days away! This is the second most important celebration in the Christian year (after Easter). The word Christmas comes from the Old English Christes messe, meaning “Christ’s Mass.” Christmas has been celebrated in Western churches on December 25 since 336, but there is no indication in the Gospels, or in any ancient sources, as to the actual day of Jesus’ birth. The big celebratory events in the early church were Jesus’ death and resurrection, not his birth.

The word “merry” in “Merry Christmas” comes from an Old English word meaning “blessed.” The association of Santa Claus with Christmas comes from Saint Nicholas of Myra – Clause is an abbreviation for Nicholas – the patron saint of children who, according to legend, rewarded good children by putting presents in their shoes while they were asleep. Nicholas was also one of the bishops at the Council of Nicea in 325.

Epiphany – This time commemorates several manifestations of Jesus as the Son of God, the most important being His presentation to the wise men or “magi” who came to Bethlehem. We do not know who the wise men were. Some believe they were Jews who stayed behind in Babylon after the Exile of the OT and came to Bethlehem when they heard about the birth of the Messiah. Others say they were astrologers from foreign lands and thus Jesus was revealed to the Gentile world in this moment. We usually think in terms of three wise men, but the Gospels do not tell us how many there were. The number three comes from the three gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) mentioned in Matthew 2:11. Epiphany is celebrated on January 6.

Nonetheless, have a “Blessed” Christmas this December, and let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as we enter into 2012! After all, Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany all celebrate the focus of our lives, Jesus Christ!