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Happy New Year!


Happy New Year! You may think this is a little premature, especially as we haven’t yet celebrated Christmas, but this is the beginning of my year. Not everyone follows the same year. We might mark January 1st as the beginning of the new year but for teachers and others in education the ‘new year’ begins in September; for those in agriculture the ‘new year’ begins with ploughing and drilling. The church calendar, however, begins with Advent Sunday. The penitential season of Advent prepares us for Christmas… and the Christmas season moves seamlessly into the Epiphany Season which technically comes to a conclusion with the Feast of Candlemas – The Presentation of Christ in the temple – forty days after Christmas day. There follow a few Sundays (it varies from year to year) before we reach Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the prelude to Easter Day. The Easter Season lasts for 50 days and brings us to Pentecost (or Whitsun as we used to call it). And that’s it: roughly half of the year has passed already and we finally enter ordinary time – the part of the liturgical that is Green – twenty-five weeks roughly speaking (it depends how early or late Easter is) that bring us back to Advent Sunday and the New Year. It is a pattern that I have followed for many years and marked out by the colours of the vestments: purple – white/gold – ((possibly a few green weeks) – purple – white/gold – green. There are the occasional ‘Red’ days thrown in mark certain saints, but that is the basic pattern. It sets a rhythm to the year that provides structure to our lives… and is fairly closely aligned with the agricultural year. I suspect that in antiquity the changing colours of the priest’s vestments where as much a marker for ploughing, sowing, and harvesting as the phases of the moon and the length of the day.

But the church year is more important than what I have outlined so far, for this pattern embeds our life in a story. That story is of course the story of Jesus: his birth, baptism, presentation in the temple… the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the arrest, trial and crucifixion… the resurrection, ascension and the gift of the promised Holy Spirit. The story is told in two parts and each part is preceded by a penitential season (purple), a time of preparation of ourselves to hear again the story of what God has done for us.

At the beginning of the new year we prepare ourselves to hear again the story of Christ’s birth – God with us! It is a phrase that can trip off the lips so easily that we sometimes need to stop and reflect on the significance of that fact – the light of Christ is with us now and shines in the darkness to bring into the light things that are hidden. We need the penitential season of Advent to examine ourselves and consider those things that we have kept hidden… for it is only when we are prepared to open ourselves up to God that we can truly celebrate Christmas and be joyful that God is with us.

Fr Philip

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