So here I sit reading the paper on Black Friday -- not a day on the liturgical calendar but almost more in tune with the pulse of American people than any day on that calendar. I read of a man camped out at Best Buy from Wednesday 4 pm till this morning when the store opened at 5 am. I heard on the news of a woman trampled at the Toys R Us here in town.
The Church Year comes to its close almost with a whimper. The last Sunday after Pentecost (or Christ the King or whatever it is called) is a small bump on the highway of our lives. Advent begins, unfortunately, at the end of a week and on the week end more marked by turkey, shopping, and football than thoughts of another year of grace.
The older I get, the more I notice this awkwardness. It is as if the great transition from one Church Year to another lost in the busy-ness of days filled with overeating, overindulging, and overspending. I worry about this loss and about the way we have forgotten this significant step in the passing of God's timing.
The end of one Church Year is out of synch with our secular calendar and with our own seasonal pulse as the world around us shifts into high gear toward Christmas. The start of a new Church Year is too often lost in the push toward Christmas music, Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and Christmas parties. Advent is not simply time of preparation but time of waiting. And waiting is the discipline of Christian faith and life. We wait upon the Lord, we wait upon His wisdom and purpose, and we wait upon His time and timing.
That is what the end of one Church Year and the start of a new one should be teaching us. We do not direct the pulse of history toward its destiny, God does. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the regretful who lament what we cannot know or control but as the faithful who trust in His providence because we have seen the revelation of His grace and favor in Christ our Lord. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the frustrated who bide their time because someone was late for an appointment but as those place our time in His hands and wait the fulfillment of that which the clock can never measure. We wait for the Lord -- not as the idle who grow weary with nothing to do but as those who have been given a mission and purpose to proclaim the Savior with words that speak of His suffering and death and resurrection and actions that extend the care of His love to those around us.
Those who direct the liturgical calendar have tried to prop up the end of the Church Year by called it various names from Christ the King Sunday to the Sunday of the Fulfillment. It is not the name we need to prop up but the sense of time that the Church Year bestows upon those who follow it. Its rhythm and pulse, understandably foreign to our consumer culture and secular world, is the different drummer that Christian people march to. What we need is not some artificial elevation of one day or another but a sense of who we are and where we are headed -- which is exactly what the Church Year gives to us.
As we are poised to begin another Year of Grace, we need to be careful lest the intrusion of the secular calendar and its celebrations steal away the spotlight from the liturgical calendar. We need to be careful about the endless string of emphases and theme Sundays that come from the head offices of all the Lutheran jurisdictions. We need to be careful about connecting one Sunday to the Sunday to come and to its Sunday past as links in the chain of a people who wait upon the Lord, who are busy during the wait with His purpose and mission, and who live each day trusting in Him whose promise is fulfilled in Christ, whose grace is sufficient for the day, and whose mercy is glimpsed even in sorrow and struggle, trial and tragedy. We wait upon the Lord...