Through the church year with Jesus
Welcome to the new year! What? There are still a few weeks to go before the old year ends. The calendar year, that is. But the new church year began yesterday. Advent marks the start of a journey of discovery of the life and work of Jesus.
For many, the weeks leading up to Christmas are stressful. But the season of Advent is actually a season meant for reflecting on that which is really important, namely on the fact that Jesus Christ, the Saviour, was born. He came into the world as a human being, died, rose again, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit. The church year observes and commemorates the life of Jesus.
Advent: letting God back into our everyday life
Even though some researchers say that Jesus actually came into the world on a different date, Christmas is celebrated on 25 December. The traditional season of Advent begins four weeks earlier.
The fact that Christmas Eve and the fourth Sunday of Advent fall on the same day this year goes back to the so-called Strasbourg Advent Dispute of 1038. It was decided that the Advent season should be observed for four weeks and that in years in which Christmas falls on a Monday, the fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day: arrival of a baby
The original Latin term adventus domini means “arrival of the Lord”. In literature, entries and arrivals are often a preview of the further development of the story. If the adventus, the arrival scene, is successful, the hero will succeed in the rest of his mission. If something goes wrong during the arrival scene, this could indicate a failure on the part of the hero.
The fact that Jesus had come into the world as a small, weak infant, was born into poverty, and laid into a manger filled with straw by his parents because there was no space in an inn, could by all means have been an indication of failure. But things turned out very differently.
Easter: victory over death
Another arrival scene; the child from the manger has grown up and rides into Jerusalem on a donkey like a king. The people cheer Him on, they lay palm leaves and garments on the ground. The adventus seemed perfect. Five days later, Jesus was dead.
Is this the failure that could have been foreseen at the birth of Jesus, at His arrival on earth? No. The very next Sunday already, Jesus is alive and active, proving once and for all that He is the Son of God. A reason to celebrate.
The date on which this festival was to be celebrated was disputed early on. Before Christianity finally separated from Judaism, the death and resurrection of Jesus were celebrated together with the Jewish festival of Passover. In 325 the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. In contrast to Christmas, which is always observed on the same date every year, the date of Easter varies every year.
Ascension Day: farewell and prospects
Setting the date for the Feast of Ascension, on the other hand, was not very difficult. Acts 1: 3 says that Jesus was with the disciples for 40 days before He ascended into heaven.
Ascension is a kind of farewell moment, but with a new prospect. The forty days that Jesus spent with the disciples were also full of meaning: Jesus was in the desert for forty days and was tempted by the devil; the people of Israel wandered through the desert for forty years and Moses received the Ten Commandments from God after forty days. The forty days therefore represent a period of testing, a period of experiencing God and the covenant with God.
Pentecost: birthday of the church
Ten days later, we celebrate a feast which is celebrated in the New Apostolic Church with international central divine services: Pentecost. When asked in street surveys what Pentecost is, many people no longer know what it is about and what is actually being celebrated. At His ascension, Jesus promised that a Comforter and Helper would come. A little later, the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and they were suddenly able to speak many languages. This enabled them to preach the gospel to many people, who then came to believe. And the church was founded.
So Pentecost is the birthday of the church. And Pentecost is the answer to the question of where the disciples, who had been full of uncertainty for fifty days, received the courage and strength for their worldwide mission as Apostles.
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