In Between Years
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
You may not know this, but it’s new year’s eve. Not on the calendar. That’s about five weeks away. But in the world of the church, tomorrow starts a brand new year.
The Christian church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, so generally right after Thanksgiving and near the start of December. That’s no coincidence. The church year is modeled after Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, so it makes sense that we start with the story right before Christ is born.
By contrast, the church year ended last Sunday, on what is called “Christ the King Sunday” or, more inclusively, “Reign of Christ Sunday.” The idea is that after we have journeyed through Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and the very long period we know as Ordinary Time, we have told the story of Christ as witnessed to in Scripture. On Christ the King we proclaim Christ’s victory over every power of death and destruction, past, present, and yet to come.
Theologians like Paul Tillich have described this as the “already, not yet.” Christ has already come into the world and triumphed over even the grave. And yet, just look around; there is so much left to be done until Christ’s grace and peace reigns everywhere.
Part of the Christian life is learning to live in that tension. We proclaim that Christ is Lord, yet we also admit that the work is not done. We set our minds and hands to the tasks that are left, and we keep working, because God expects nothing less from us.
I think that’s why we tell these same stories, year after year. We need the reminders of how it happened, and we need to look back before we can look forward. This week especially, in between years, we prepare once again to hear that the story of the Christ who grew up to be king began as a baby with a world of odds stacked against him.
Happy new year, church. May the great story inspire you once again this year, and always.
Dear God, as we begin a new year with you, help me to hear this story once again with new ears, and to be transformed by it. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.