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Beginning Again, Again

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In a recent post, Marylin Warner pointed out that today, March 25, is Old New Year’s Day. She posted this information a few days ago so that readers might think about what they would like to do over from the January 1 New Year. A New Year is an opportunity to make a fresh start, to correct past mistakes and begin again. You can read her post at: http://warnerwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/unfinished-business/

I was aware that March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, honoring the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the incarnation of Jesus. What I did not know until I did some research is that there is a direct connection between the Annunciation and the old New Year.

The Christian scholars of many centuries ago understood that the incarnation of Christ marked the beginning of a new age. They set the beginning of this incarnation at conception, nine months before the birth of Jesus. Since a new age began on March 25, so must the year of the new age’s calendar, the Years of Our Lord, from which the suffix A.D. (Anno Domini) derives. To know which year it was required starting the year on the same day as the day of the incarnation.

It makes as much sense to start the year a few days after the Spring Equinox as it does to start it ten days after the Winter Solstice. Any day makes a good day for a fresh start. But I’m glad we don’t start our year on March 25. For me, the Feast of the Annunciation has a different significance. Coming as it most often does before Easter, it suggests to me that things have a way of beginning again before the last cycle is over. This is how ritual includes a whole lifetime in its rhythm of days and seasons. It is also a reminder of our human condition. We believe that one thing should end and then another can begin. Things often don’t work that way.

Whether you celebrate a new year, a new season, or a new day, take time to make something right if you are aware of something that is broken.

Fresh Thinking for a New Year?

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It’s the fifth day of Christmas as I post this, and, supposedly, three days before we all go over the “fiscal cliff,” although there are a number of efforts in place to forestall or minimize the impact.  It is both amazing and distressing to see how real and persistent ills, such as hunger, homelessness and killings, take second place to an economic tangle beyond the comprehension of most of us unless over simplified to single issues, like taxes or entitlements.

Isn’t it hubris to believe, or act as if, a problem this big can be solved by one decision, one agreement?

On the blog for the One Earth Project, Lee Van Ham has been examining our economic structure as a religion.  He makes a very good argument for this.  The following translation of getting, spending, consuming and anxiety into religious language seems to fit the case quite well.

The path to wholeness and salvation in market logic is wealth accumulation. Without accumulating enough to participate in The Market’s activities, one is doomed. To follow any path other than wealth accumulation is heresy, and inevitably, means falling into sin. One testifies to their salvation through their assets and habits such as car, home, smart phone, clothing, investments, and up-to-date technologies; also where we travel, vacation, eat out and with whom. All of these bear witness to being saved. Nevertheless, the path is an anxious one because, unless one has accumulated a lot, working for more is unending. Even after one has been to the altar and been saved, the feelings of insufficiency return. Salvation becomes an unending quest, heavy in effort, light in grace.

I think “light in grace” is an understatement.    Grace means “gift”: there is no grace as long as we think it is we who must do something to be saved.  Grace comes with the idea that our very life is a gift.  Then what we do with our life can be understood as our thank-you gift in return.

The primary purpose of the One Earth Project blog is to demonstrate that we in the developed world are consuming more resources than our planet can provide.  We live as if we had five earths to draw on. This is different from the charge I remember from thirty years ago, when we in America were accused of using more than our “fair share.”  “Fairness” has never sold well as an idea in capitalist economies.  Now we are up against the more serious matter of sustainability, survival.

The call to one-earth thinking is no easier to hear in the noise of our economics than the call to fairness was.  New Year’s resolutions to spend less, or recycle more, are not enough.  A friend of mine has pointed out that recycling may be only an effort to maintain our “culture of things” a little longer, to avoid any major changes that might really affect the one earth “deficit.”  As with the national debt, we’ve gotten ourselves into a situation with no quick fix.  But I invite you to start thinking about the issue by reading the blog: click on One Earth Project in the blog roll.

Happy New Year

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Light a Candle for Advent

Light a Candle for Advent

The cycle of the year turns and we come to another new year, this one in the Christian liturgical calendar.  November 25 was Christ the King Sunday, the end of the old year. December 2 is the first Sunday in Advent.  We switch to a different gospel for our readings as a sign that we are at a new beginning.  I heard a church member ask, “What is Advent, anyway” last Sunday.  All he knew was advent calendars, the ones with little doors to open that help a child wait for Christmas.

Advent means “Coming.”  Advent is a season of preparation, but not just for Christmas.  Coming has a double meaning.  It refers to the coming of the Christ Child.  It also refers to the last days, the “second coming” of Christ at the end of time.

It’s a lot easier to get ready for Christmas than to ponder the end.  Appropriately, ideas about the end time have a complex name: they are called “Eschatology.”  Perhaps it is part of the wisdom of the early church to remind us of the end when we are thinking of the beginning, because it is easier to bear that way.  More likely, the coming of Christ was understood as a breaking into history that was the beginning of the end.  There is a piece of Lutheran liturgy which includes the phrase, relating to the appearance of Christ, “at this end of all the ages.”  It is now 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus.  2,000 years is a lot longer than early Christians like Paul believed we would be waiting, but it’s not so long measured against the great scale of the earth’s existence.

Eschaton is Greek for end.  Advent is Latin for coming.  The church has gathered its language and its customs from all over.  In early centuries the Christian church was very savvy about absorbing and combining the religious practices of peoples.  That, as you probably know, is why Christmas is set for December 25, four days after the solstice.  It plays into all the “pagan” holidays of light at the turning of the year from growing darkness to increasing light.

I have a pendant I wear during Advent.  A simple candle, the primary symbol of Advent, light shining in the darkness (“and the darkness has not overcome it,” John wrote).  On the back of the pendant is written: “to give light you must endure burning.”  That is Advent for me: a time to recognize that there is nothing simple about the birth of a baby.