Happy New Year! No, really! What? You think I’m crazy and I better check my calendar. I have. The Church has a calendar she follows. It’s not one that competes with January-December. It’s like the fiscal calendar or the school calendar, but more. The Church Year centers around the events in the Life of Jesus, God in the Flesh, and of His Church.
It runs regardless of the months, and is patterned Sunday-to-Sunday, as we recognize where our true life is: in the resurrection of our Lord. The seasons of the Church year are: The Times of Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost/Trinity. It begins here with Advent, preparing us to celebrate the birth of our Savior and looking forward to His coming again.
In case you were wondering, this isn’t a new idea. In Israel, God actually instituted a yearly schedule of feasts for His people to celebrate His acts of salvation and on-going provision (see Leviticus 23)—the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and so on. By remembering these events, they remembered who their God was and who they were in relation to Him. “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
That’s also what we mean to do—remember who our God is, glorify Him for what He has done, be filled with joy at His salvation, and grow in who we are in relation to our great God. So, here we are at the start of the Church year, but what are we doing in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives? It’s to remind us Who we celebrate at Christmas.
We start the Church Year in Jerusalem because there, Jesus accomplished His mighty saving work—the act of God which fills the rest of our life with hope, which gives shape to our lives in this passing world, which we weekly and daily remember every time we call upon His Name. It’s a fine way of kicking off this new year, focused on the blessings which we daily live in, and continuing to walk on our pilgrim way until time gives way to eternity.
It’s common to hear conservative voices campaign to put Christ back in Christmas, yet it’s equally important to know Who that Christ is. He’s not just special because of His birth. In fact by the time Jesus was born, there were many allegedly special births:
- Egyptian kings were considered descendants of Osiris and Isis, and called “god incarnate”
- Alexander the Great was said to have been “virgin born”
- Augustus Caesar dubbed himself “son of the deified one” (Julius) and was called “savior of the world.”
So, His birth by itself doesn’t set Him apart from these, except that we believe He is “begotten of His Father before all worlds…and He was made man.” (Nicene Creed)
This virgin-born Son of God is the true Savior of the world. He is able to do for us what no other could—neither angel or man. He comes as King to do what no other ruler could, and to make us citizens of a Kingdom which cannot be shaken or overthrown. Certainly, other kings had come—even in the humble manner of riding on a work animal, a servant of the people (Solomon, for instance 1 Kings 1:33-34). But none of them was the King of Kings, Who set aside His glory, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8) By His all-atoning death and resurrection, He won for Himself a Kingdom beyond anything the rulers of the earth squabble over. He gained a Kingdom whose citizens come from all the nation-states of this world and yet are united under this one, eternal Lord.
This is the Jesus we have come here to meet, no mere prophet who points to a salvation on the horizon. He’s right there, sitting on a donkey with men’s garments underneath Him. But where is He now?
Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. He is here today. We join that crowd, now knowing to whom we cry: This is none other than the Christ, the Savior of the world. It is quite right for us to cry hosanna, Save us, Save us, Save in the utmost. That what Jesus came to do. That’s why He entered Jerusalem. Because we needed Him. And He made our need His own.
Today, that once-for-all sacrifice is brought to us. We are given that body and blood to eat and drink. We are given the forgiveness of our sins. The same forgiveness proclaimed to the people long ago. The same forgiveness proclaimed from the cross. That’s your forgiveness as well.
And by that forgiveness, we are taught. We learn what love is. What love does. And by that love, we know the Law of God. We learn what mercy is, because Christ has had mercy on us first. We are among the crowds who come to Jesus. We are among the many who are glad to come to the house of the Lord. Now that house is no longer confined to a room in a building. But the temple in which Jesus resides is now you. His presence is right there beside you with His gifts. With the water of Baptism, with the word of Absolution, with the Bread and Wine of which He says, “This is My body, this is My blood”—this is where we go to find Him, for He hasn’t promised to be anywhere else with His saving grace.
He needs to give these gifts to you, solely because we need them. We need life. We need forgiveness. We need salvation. And there’s Jesus, giving them right here for you. They weren’t free to purchase. They cost our Lord everything. But they are free to you. No work from you required. Because it is finished. There’s nothing left that needs to be done for those things to be yours. They are, because Jesus has given them to you.
A blessed new year in Christ to you. We worship today and for as many days as the Lord gives us until our pleas are answered in eternity. Amen.