We may think of the Liturgical Year as a circle, going round and round, from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to ordinary time to Lent, to Easter, etcetera, etcetera, and then starting all over again. We read in the book of Ecclesiastes:
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
‘See, this is new’?
It has already been,
in the ages before us. (1:9-10)
But in truth, “there is nothing new under the sun” is a very unusual sentiment for the Bible. Some things do go round and round of course: the earth, for example, and with it the seasons. Human nature, too, seems not to change, generation after generation. But the typical biblical view of time and history is that we are going somewhere, not stuck in a never-ending circle. In Isaiah 43 we hear:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (18-19)
In this light we can think of the liturgical year in another way—as a spiral, or more properly a helix: turning, yes, but moving toward the fulfillment of all things.
So as we begin Advent, we notice that we are not quite in the same place as we were last year at the same time, just as each loop of the helix brings us to a spot which looks similar to the previous loop, but is not in reality the same.
Sometimes, though, it seems easier to go round and round, all the while complaining that there is nothing new under the sun. Because if we accept that something new is beginning, we must also accept that something old is ending. In other words, we must accept the death of something familiar to us. If we hear Jesus saying, “I am coming soon,” or if we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” then we must accept that the life we know, the only life we know, as imperfect as it may be, must come to an end in one way or another. And whether we know it or not, this is happening to us every year, on a grand scale or on a very small one.
Beginnings imply endings, as endings imply beginnings. And beginnings always call for a move into the unknown.
We are not in the same spot as last year. We do carry the blessing of last year with us (even if it felt like anything but a blessing). But we have had to leave last year behind, perhaps with relief, or perhaps with clinched fists. And this year we are closer to glory than we were last year, as each turn of the helix of God’s time brings us nearer to the fulfillment of all things.
Thanksgiving Chapel, Dallas
The Glory Window
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)