This is the next in my series of blogs in which I am reviewing Joan Chittister's The Liturgical Year.
[Order it here and read my earlier reviews of her book here.]
Thus far we have looked at Advent; now we move to the Christmas season, which includes Christmas Day and the season of Epiphany.
She describes in great, but simple, detail how and why it came about that the Western Church celebrates Christmas Day on 25 December and the Eastern Church on 6 January. This invloves a discussion around the different calendars used in these parts of the world when the dates were being decided. Interesting cultural beliefs regarding when a perfect person like Jesus would die are shown to be a source in deciding the date for his birth based on the date we have for his death. This is just one example of well researched material Chittester provides that makes for useful sermon fillers.
She helpfully ties in pagan practises that were widespread in the world into which the early church exploded and how many of them were "Christianised". This does not necessarily make the Christian practises bad, but rather proves the redemptive power of the gospel to bring the Light of the World to bear on all things. Pointing out how Stonehenge is built in a way to pick up the first rays of light on the winter solstice, the longest night and 'darkest' day, and then relating this to the Christ who comes as Light even into the darkest night of the soul, shows how the gospel indeed brings light and redemption to a lost world. What a wonderful time (in the Northern Hemisphere) to celebrate the birth of the Light of the world.
There is much more in this vein, but Chittester constantly reminds us that the liturgical season of Christmas is there to remind us to celebrate life, God's greatness, and the manifestation of divinity in our midst.
"This one is both the God who reaches down to us and the human who raises us up to God"
"God is with us. The Radiant Dawn has swallowed up the darkness."
Of course, the centre point of the liturgical year is not Christmas, but Easter. Chittester reminds us:
"Christmas is not meant to leave us with nothing more than a child's perception of what it means to see a baby in a manger scene. It is meant to take us to the level of spiritual maturity where we are capable of seeing in a manger the meaning of an empty tomb. It is meant to enable us to see through the dark days of life to the stars beyond them."
Christmas is followed by Epiphany where we remember the journey of the magi, "to pay him homage." This season reminds us that "the world recognises the heavenly in this tiny Child. And the Child recognises the people of God in them. This is not a Christian child only; this child belongs to the world."
The Christmas season ends with the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan, a sign that "Jesus accepts humanity, His own and ours, in all of its struggles, all of its limitations, all of its burdens, and all its focus on the ultimate, on the divine."
"Christmas is larger than a baby in a manger. Christmas is the coming of a whole new world. More than that, it is what makes that world possible."