Happy New Year!
No, I haven’t been transported to some distant science-fiction planet – this coming Sunday is the beginning of the liturgical year for the Christian church in the western world.
To be more specific, it’s the first Sunday of Advent, the period preceding Christmas.
Advent always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Because Christmas comes on a Saturday this year, Advent is unusually long.
Of course, most churches in the western world use the Gregorian calendar, which begins the year on Jan. 1.
But…that’s not universal. Different cultures, and especially different religions, have their own calendars.
The Eastern Churches still follow the Julian calendar, devised by Caesar himself before he was assassinated, which sets Christmas on our Jan. 7.
Their Old New Year, therefore, waits until our Jan. 14.
The Baha’i religion follows the ancient Iranian calendar, which sets the New Year, or Nowruz, as March 20, 2022.
Caution: I claim no expertise here – I glean these days from the Internet, which is not always 100 per cent reliable.
Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains begin their year with Diwali, Oct. 24 this coming year.
Although Vaisakhi, the anniversary of the founding of Sikhism in 1699, on April 14, also serves as the beginning of the Hindu solar year.
So why would the Christian year not simply match a calendar year?
Because religions honour their tradition more than secular standards.
So the Christian liturgical year doesn’t match the school year starting in September, the Gregorian year, or even the solar year, which would probably start on a solstice.
A related question, then – why start with Advent?
Imagine a concert. The orchestra has come out onto the stage.
The string section has its bows ready. The brasses have taken a deep breath.
The tympanist has her mallets poised.
A breathless hush hangs over the concert hall. Everyone waits for the baton to fall, for the music to start.
That silence is crucial.
In the days before COVID-19 regulations drove choirs into hibernation, I learned that the rests, the silences, are just as important as the notes.
When everyone is in full song, a wrong note may not be noticed.
But if anyone sings any note at all during a rest, it’s painfully obvious.
The rests were when the choir united. For that one instant, we stopped singing as one, we breathed as one, we began again as one.
We were no longer a collection of diverse bodies. We became a single living breathing organism.
That, I think, was what author Fred Buechner meant in his adroit re-phrasing of a familiar cliché.
He described the birth of Jesus, after Advent’s period of preparation, as the moment when “all heaven broke loose.”
Maybe it’s hard to think of Advent as a breathless hush.
Often, it feels more like frenzy. Christmas shopping. Desperate pleas to fund charities.
Here in B.C., with our highways severed by storms, we contend with shortages of gasoline, vegetables, dairy products, and turkeys. Travel schedules become nightmares.
All the more reason to take a few minutes, every day, to practice silence.
For a few moments each day, to hold our breath in anticipation, waiting for the moment when the baton drops, when all heaven breaks loose.
Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country.