Sunday, November 28, 2010

Another Year, Another Perihelion

Do you know what the anomalistic year is? It is the average interval between consecutive passages of the earth through the perihelion, equivalent to 365.26 days. All clear?

Now that you know what the anomalistic year is you might be wondering what in the world is the perihelion. The perihelion is that point in the orbit of a planet at which it is nearest to the sun. [It comes from the Greek words ‘peri’- around, and ‘helios’- sun.]

We usually don’t make a big deal about that point at which we are closest to the sun (okay, astronomers do) but it happens nevertheless. We’re constantly going around the sun, every year in fact, and the perihelion happens only once a year.

The purpose of our calendar year isn’t to mark things like the perihelion (and astronomers could tell you a lot of other cool stuff that happens throughout the year), but to make it easy for all of us to mark the passage of time in a coordinated way. On January 1 we will begin that again with the year 2011.

In the Church we mark time differently. Everything in the year the Church revolves around the Son. It’s not just once a year that we come to the point where we’re nearest to Him. It’s in every season and festival and commemoration. Everything in the Church Year is meant to bring us to the point where we’re nearest Him.

Whether it’s Christmas, where we mark the birth of the Savior who would accomplish His work of salvation on the cross, or Pentecost, where we mark the sending of the Holy Spirit in a specific way to equip the saints of God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus’ salvific work on the cross, or the Commemoration of John the Baptist, where we mark the grace of God in sending a prophet to point the way to the Savior who humbly bore the sins of the world on the cross.

In the calendar year we mark time. In the Church Year we mark our continually being drawn to Christ and the cross. Astronomers will jump at the chance to tell you about the perihelion, and many other things that are indeed cool and amazing. After all, God created the universe and the way the earth revolves around the sun where once a year the perihelion is marked. You could think of the Church Year as the way the Church jumps at the chance to tell you about the most amazing thing of all: the Son who is the Lord who created life and suffered death that we may live.

Since the Church Year is defined by every part of it drawing us close to Christ, the Son, I thought I would take the liberty to make up a word, also drawing from the Greek: periHion. The word ‘hios’ comes from the Greek word meaning “son.” Observing the Church Year is our way of revolving around the Son. We don’t just mark time, we mark, in all its vastness, the Person and Work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who accomplished salvation in His life, suffering, death, and resurrection.

The Church Year begins with Advent—look for the Son and His salvific work in that season. It continues with Christmas—look for the One who was born in order to die. It moves on with Epiphany—look for the Son who came to enlighten the world with His true Light shining forth from the cross. It goes from there to Lent—look for the Son who in humility walked the path of the cross for the sins of the world. It bounds forth in Easter—look for the risen Son who conquered death in His death and the grave in His resurrection. It flows from there to Pentecost—look for the Son in whom we have life, forgiveness, and salvation. Another year, another opportunity to revolve around the Son. God’s Blessings to you in the coming Church Year.

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