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The Season of Christmas

by pastorjuhl ~ November 22nd, 2010

A notorious Episcopalian congregation in San Francisco, CA is wont to say: “There are two seasons here: Easter and getting ready for Easter.” One would agree, but one also would not want to slight the season of Christmas. The time from Advent 1 to, in our calendar, Transfiguration (the last Sunday after Epiphany) is its own cycle that leads from the contemplation of the parousia in Matthew 25, as well as Trinity 25 and 26 when they occur, through the bright light of the birth of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, and onward toward the eternal sunshine of the day of our Lord’s Resurrection.

Before moving on to talk about Advent in particular, Pius Parsch in his five-volume work The Church’s Year of Grace spends some time talking about the Christmas season in general. Parsch notes “The Church and the soul are struggling through the darkness toward the Light. The longing and expectancy of Advent are feelings familiar to the heart of man. And the story of Jesus’ infancy, together with its celebration within the Christian family, make this season the most lovable of the year.

“But the liturgy would have us see beyond accidentals. What are we celebrating at Christmas? Christ’s coming. Advent means coming. Epiphany, too, means coming or appearance. But which coming are we celebrating? We know there are three comings – the first in the flesh as Man; the second in majesty and glory on the last day; and the third in grace.”

It is this threefold coming that, according to Parsch, is lost among modern Christendom focusing Advent on the coming of Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Certainly this event has its place in this season and should be retained. Nevertheless, it is this threefold coming that should occupy our attention through the four weeks of Advent.

Back to the general season of Christmas. Parsch sees the Christmas cycle as a sort of mystery play; “for its dramatic element ought not be overlooked”. This focus on the Church Year as a drama was popular during the early 20th century “Liturgical Movement”. Parsch suggests an outline for this cycle that I have slightly adapted for our calendar.

THE ROYAL NUPTIALS OF HEAVEN AND EARTH

A. The curtain rises. Preparation for the King’s Coming (Advent)
I. He comes
1. Triumphal entry linking the Christmas cycle to the Easter cycle (Advent 1)
2. Vision from afar (Advent 2)
3. Jerusalem prepares herself (Advent 3)
II. Now He is near
4. The joy of anticipation (Advent 4)
5. The King puts on the clothes of a servant (Ember Days)
6. Final preparation and longing call of the Bride (“O” Antiphons)
7. Before the eternal gates (Vigil of Christmas)
B. The King appears (Christmas)
I. The King comes in servant’s clothes (Christmas)
1. His retinue: martyrs (Stephen), virgins (John), children (Innocents)
2. His glance toward the Cross (Christmas 1)
II. In full glory the King celebrates His marriage to the Church (Epiphany)
1. He receives His wedding guests (Magi)
2. He purifies His Bride (Baptism in the Jordan)
3. He gives His wedding meal (Epiphany 2)
III. The Bride prepares her chamber (Candlemas – Presentation/Purification)
C. Epilogue. The King presides over His Kingdom (Sundays after Epiphany)
1. As Teacher (Epiphany 1)
2. As Priest (Epiphany 2)
3. As Savior (Epiphany 3)
4. As Conqueror (Epiphany 4)
5. As Wise Judge (Epiphany 5)
6. As Messiah (Transfiguration)

Parsch concludes: “The entire cycle, therefore, is a glorious outpouring of Christ’s grace upon the Church and upon each individual soul.”

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