“If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?” Romans 8:32 The Message
“The seasons and cycles and solemnities put before us in the liturgical year are more than representations of time past; they are an unending sign—a veritable sacrament of life. It is through them that the Christ-life becomes present in our own lives in the here and now.” Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year
For me this adventure of discovering the liturgy has been a journey over the past several years. As a child I was introduced to Jesus through Sunday school at a country church that was not affiliated with a denomination. The teacher asked the class if we wanted to have Jesus live in our hearts. After I asked him to live in my heart, so that I could live with him forever in heaven, my spiritual formation was very informal. I continued to attend Sunday school sporadically, and in the summer we attended various Vacation Bible School programs with our neighbors, mostly at Baptist churches in the community. In about fifth grade I attended a Baptist church with one of my schoolmates whose father was the pastor. I became familiar with hymns like Amazing Grace, I Surrender All, as well as altar calls and my favorite-- Sword Drills. My competitive spirit loved standing at attention with Bible in hand waiting to see who could find the called out Scripture the fastest. Also we sang this great song during Sunday school called the Countdown Song. It was great since the world was all a buzz with landing on the moon and space travel and the Jetsons on Saturday morning. The opening verse went something like this: “Somewhere in outer space God has prepared a place for those who trust him and obey.” Good times.
Yet I missed out on after school catechism classes, first communion and confirmation that my Catholic friends experienced. It wasn’t until I was an adult inoculated in one mainstream tradition that I began to wonder about other church traditions. I confess that because their approach was different than mine, I mostly made fun of them or even worse was fearful of their traditions.
The legacy of the liturgy dates back to the early church. In the Catholic Encylopedia online, the general consensus was that although the liturgy was not as formal as it has become, the early believers followed a loose format when they met together. (See Acts 2:42) To give a brief overview of the history of liturgy would take a whole semester at least, so suffice it to say, we have been handed down a rich legacy of traditions from various groups. I will recommend another of my favorite mentors on this topic of spiritual heritage and formation, Richard J. Foster. In his book Streams of Living Water, he celebrates the various contributions each tradition has offered. It’s a place to start if you are interested.
It was interesting to note that the word liturgy was possibly first used in 1560. This was the year that the Anglican Church published their Book of Common Prayer into Latin for use at universities. Again so much history revolves around the Church of England and its break with the Catholic Church that I will refer you to an internet search if you want to know more.
What does this all have to do with us today, and celebrating Advent? The greatest legacy we have is Emmanuel. No matter how we approach the different traditions, Jesus is our central figure. He is the one that all of these celebrations are focused on. He is not just a child born in Bethlehem or the man who died on the cross—He is God with us! This is the greatest gift given to us our by the Father’s will that we have ever been offered. In the gospel of John, he states this about Jesus and about those who become his co-heirs through belief:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:12-14 NIV
10 and 9, 8 and 7, 6 and 5 and 4,
Call upon the Savior while you may,
3 and 2, coming through the clouds in bright array
The countdown's getting lower every day.