BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
In September 1752, the citizenry of the UK and British colonies had a Rip Van Winkle experience. They went to bed as usual on Wednesday 2nd September but when they woke up it was Thursday the 14th September.
Of course they hadn’t been fast asleep for seven days and eight nights. The lost week was the result of the administrative change in the British Isles from using the Julian calendar to gauge time to using the Gregorian calendar, bringing the British Isles into line with the European calendar, which had been in use on the Continent since the middle of the 16th century.
At this time of year, next year’s calendars are beginning to clamour for our attention. Myriad calendar displays in shops and malls are constant reminders that this year – whether it has been annus mirabilis or annus horribilis - is drawing to a close. Dates for events that are going to happen next year – such as weddings and holidays – are firming up and need to be recorded. New Year resolutions are beginning to loom large.
In Australia we are becoming more and more aware that there are many more New Year festivals, other than the Gregorian calendar one, which are becoming part and parcel of Australian life. But what all New Year celebrations have in common is that they are a symbol of hope in the future, of moving on from the past with its dashed hopes and disappointments and failures, of embracing a new beginning.
There is one New Year which is so low key it almost slips under the radar. On the first Sunday of Advent I know my default reaction is to have a mild panic attack and groan. “Oh no! Surely its not Christmas time again!”
Yet Advent is for Christians, the start of the most important calendar year – the liturgical year of the Church. For the next six months, Christians reel from major festival to major celebrations of all that the Christian Church understands itself to be. The Incarnation – encapsulated in our Christmas festivities, however commercial this particular feast has become – is the declaration of our God that no matter what,
He is present in our lives. The Epiphany celebrates God’s revelation that all people are included in his plan of salvation. The season of Lent gives us opportunities to reassess our lives both temporal and spiritual. Holy Week commemorates the death and Resurrection of Jesus and its attendant life-giving truth that the love of God has triumphed against and defeated, if not the manifestation of evil in our world, then the power of evil to prevail.
The great feast of Pentecost recalls the gift of the Holy Spirit to the tiny nascent Christian community, promising that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. And the further promise that this grace is always available even if not always availed of!
As we are still in the “beginning” phase Advent, in what has certainly been an annus horribilis for the Catholic Church in Australia, we can draw strength from the familiar and repetitive liturgies of the Church. Coming together in worship as the community of believers, we are united by the Spirit; in the sacramental rites of the community we are a sign that there are mysteries above and beyond human limitation and understanding
In listening to the Word we hear again and again the truths and challenges of the Gospel; as a pilgrim people we share our journey with both sinners and saints; as faithful followers of Jesus we serve the poor, the oppressed, the abused. In the face of terrible injustices, share His vision of a world renewed.
Contrary to what an overwrought media would seek to have us believe, the Church is not just its hierarchy, it is far more. Advent is a good time to reaffirm and reflect on the unique truths that bring us together as the People of God.
Elizabeth McKenzie is a Melbourne writer.
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