Friday, March 11, 2016

Why Observe the Christian Calendar?

I've heard some believers object to celebrating various holy days and feasts and seasons of the Christian year because there isn't a particular proof-text to point to that says, "You should observe Ash Wednesday or Lent or Trinity Sunday." But they celebrate Christmas and Easter.

The trouble is, we generally don't celebrate Christmas and Easter very well. We've relegated them both to one day holidays. The season of Christmas lasts 12 days and Easter lasts 7 weeks. Do most people know this? Probably not. No wonder some believers don't think we should recognize other Christian holidays...they don't know what they're celebrating even when it comes to the 2 Big Ones.

So in this short post, I want to offer some suggestions as to why it's okay, and even necessary, to observe the Christian calendar.

Some Thoughts and Questions to Consider

Observing a calendar cycle (living our lives according to an annual pattern) is right and natural. The seasons, for example, are a part of God’s created order (Genesis 8.22; see Ecclesiastes 3). We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, etc., so obviously it's okay to honor specific days and occasions.

We already observe a secular calendar and adjust our lives to a secular cycle of celebration. What does this say about our priorities and mindset? Who/what is at the center of our lives? Are we adjusting our lives to the world’s pattern? Wouldn’t it be more biblical and God-honoring to adjust our lives to a Christian yearly cycle? Otherwise, by default, we are saying the 'school year' or 'fiscal year' or 'sports calendar' is more important to us.

A Christian calendar reminds us that the center of our lives is Jesus Christ. The liturgical year is patterned after the events of Christ’s life: the expectation of the coming Messiah, Jesus’s birth, his baptism, ministry, preaching, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, giving of the Spirit, the proclamation of the gospel, expansion of God’s kingdom, and his second coming. A biblical basis for this is the Apostle Paul’s desire and declaration to ‘preach the whole counsel of God.’ (Acts 20.27)

A Christian calendar pre-dates our American ‘cycle of celebration’ by many centuries, obviously. Why have we cherry-picked only certain holidays to observe? It seems we’ve selected only certain Christian holidays (like Christmas and Easter) because they match the secular seasons, and in the process, we’ve shrunk those two feasts to one day each. This is a sad commentary.

A Christian calendar has its roots in the Jewish Festivals, seven of which were instituted by God as prophetic pointers to Jesus Christ. (See Leviticus 23; then also Colossians 2.16,17.) Therefore, a true understanding of feasts and holidays brings to mind Christ’s fulfillment of all the prophecies and festivals of the Scripture. Just as God's people in the Old Testament celebrated biblical feasts, God's New Testament people can celebrate feasts that fulfill the past promises.

Jesus celebrated the Jewish Festivals, including Hanukkah (John 10.22) which was not specifically instituted by God. His example gives us permission, then, to observe holidays that are not explicitly commanded in scripture. (Though, of course, we are not to be enslaved by them. See Galatians 4.10.) The Christian calendar is intended to keep our eyes on Christ.

So it seems to me that we do a disservice to our Christian heritage and demonstrate a myopic view of our faith if we do not take advantage of this wonderful tool (the liturgical year) that has its roots in the texts of scripture and the very early church.

Addendum: Some Helpful Sources Regarding Old Testament Jewish Festivals