Happy New Years’! That’s right, it’s out with the old, in with the new—at least according to the church’s liturgical calendar. The Christian year begins four Sundays before Christmas, on the First Sunday in Advent, and ends the Sunday before that, which is traditionally celebrated as The Feast of Christ the King, or, more recently, the Reign of Christ.
The original calendars were set according to the lunar cycles, from which we still set the date for Easter (the first Sunday following the full moon that follows the northern spring equinox). But those calendars set the start of the year variously as May 1, March 15, and even September 1—until, that is, the Julian calendar was established in the 1st Century, CE, and which was then upheld by the (more refined) Gregorian calendar we in the West have used since the 16th Century.
While still observing the Gregorian calendar for civic purposes, the church regards the year as the unfolding story of Jesus Christ. So it begins, in the West, by backing up four weeks from the traditional date of Jesus’ birthday, December 25, to hear the prophecies concerning his arrival. It then tells his earthly story up to his death and resurrection at Easter, and then beyond, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The rest of the year is a wide-flung consideration of Jesus’ parables and teachings, until we roll it all up in a celebration of his reign … and then start again.
We pray routinely for the baptized, that God gives them “an inquiring and discerning heart”. But the words race by, their significance lost. We are praying, not that we have all the answers, but that we ask the right questions, and that we discover for ourselves our own answers.
This is a hallmark of what some call “progressive” Christianity—followers of Jesus who are content to live not only with what they know, but also with what they don’t know, holding contradictory truths in tension, accepting the ambiguity that some truths remain unclear and incomprehensible.
This approach heeds the apostle Paul’s advice to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”. We may accept God’s unconditional love for us, poured out for us on the cross, planted deep in our hearts by the Holy Spirit; but what does it mean, and what does this actually look like in the life of a Christian?
Asking questions is not, as some suppose, a lack of faith. It is precisely the opposite. To ask questions is to deepen our understanding of the truth, and to apply it creatively to our daily lives. It sees faith as lively exploration rather than as blind obedience.
To help fulfil our baptismal prayer, we offer, from time to time, a Tuesday evening “Inquirers’ Group”. So on December 5, 12 & 19, at 7:15, we welcome all inquirers to bring their questions about Christmas: what does the birth of Jesus, so long ago, really mean to us now?
This week we welcome Emmanuel and Athanasie Gatera, from Rwanda, into our midst, having already welcomed them into our hearts. Emmanuel has been studying long-distance through St. Stephen’s College, U of A, in Edmonton, and he and his wife Athanasie have come for Emmanuel’s Convocation, where he is receiving his Doctor of Ministry degree.
When we first met Emmanuel, almost twenty years ago, he was a promising student at the University of Kampala in Uganda, referred to us by the World Mission Department of our national office. We corresponded with Emmanuel through his studies, to his eventual ordination to the priesthood, then while he was given the prestigious position of general secretary of the Anglican Archdiocese of Rwanda while at the same time building a new congregation in his home city of Kigali.
Both Emmanuel and Athanasie lost family members to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, one hundred days of unspeakable atrocities that took the lives of almost one million Tutsis and that scarred the nation forever. But Emmanuel and Athanasie chose hope over despair and today they are working to heal the wounds of the genocide through YEGO-Rwanda, a not-for-profit organization they founded to provide necessities of life, counselling, and support for Genocide survivors, their children, and Rwanda’s many orphans.
We will hear their story and learn of their work. But mainly we will celebrate with them their enormous achievement of bringing light into the darkness. You can support their work through www.yegorwanda.net or through our own Outreach-Beyond Fund.
It is our privilege, in the church, to dwell in the presence of greatness. Not fame, necessarily, nor worldly power or success. But great people nevertheless, doing great things, inspiring the rest of us.
Last week our own Jean Springer was named one of 150 women of Calgary who have made a difference. “She Who Dares” is a program of recognition of YWCA Calgary. “Extraordinary women” were chosen from 150 years of Canadian history, highlighting the accomplishments of pioneers, caregivers, artists, and teachers. Jean was chosen as a teacher of mathematics and a university dean, roles she played with customary grace and aplomb, influencing through example the many lives she touched along the away.
No sooner had we learned of Jean’s laurels, than we were devastated to learn of the passing of another great light: Gerald Smith. A member of St. Stephen’s for 70 years, since he joined the parish at age 17, Gerald was a wise leader, a true gentleman, and a treasured elder in our midst. His care and consideration, his generosity, and his quick wit and intelligence—these will not soon be forgotten. Indeed, they have become the very characteristics of the church he loved.
We are called to be God’s saints—God’s holy ones. But it is easier to rise to this calling when we have the good examples of great people in our midst. We thank God for them!