Setting the Spiritual Clock
May the church calendar be a rich resource to the communities of faith they serve.... May all of us realize that God's timetable does not follow the secular calendar. No matter what happens during this or that trying season, may we all take to heart our participation in God's eternal story, which the liturgical calendar features from Jesus' first advent to his second coming. (p. xii)
To the church at large, Metzger offers this admonition:
We who are Christians should be sure to mark our calendars to reflect the Christian story. Stories shape our lives. Just as the children entered a new world of Narnia in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so we must enter the world of the Bible and calendar events that mark the seasons of our Christian life cycle, year in and year out. Otherwise other stories--no matter how great and lofty as those of grassroots movements, great individuals or nations are--will eclipse the Christian narrative. This book is a sustained attempt to set our spiritual clock according to the liturgical or church calendar, which circles the glorious Son as he breaks through the secular eclipse. (p. 4, italics in the original)
Metzger emphasizes the biblical roots of an annual worship liturgy by referencing the liturgical practices of Israel under the old covenant, noting that
Jesus practiced the Jewish tradition and participated in its community-building experiences, including the pilgrimage feasts.... Each of the pilgrimage feasts shaped the Jewish people as a missional movement that obeyed God's Law to cultivate virtuous love of God and neighbor and prepared them for worship in the Messianic age when they would dwell in the Promised Land of rest.... If Jesus did not find these liturgical celebrations to be dead tradition, but essential to his spiritual practice and mission, shouldn't we do the same and honor the Christian calendar when it reflects and extends the biblical story? (p. 9)
As Christians, we do not practice the Jewish liturgy (which pertains to the old covenant), but a liturgy that pertains to the new covenant, which is to say to the story (narrative) of the life of Jesus. This liturgy is a gift entrusted to the church by which we are enabled "to set our spiritual clocks according to the Christian calendar" (p. 11), thus ensuring
that the Savior rather than a secularist paradigm shapes our narrative, imagination, and sense of time in the church. Without this orientation, we will not survive as authentically and distinctively Christian in our secular pluralistic age. (p. 13)
Following the introductory material, Metzger provides a series of essays that look at each season in the Christian calendar. What follows below and in other posts in the series are excerpts from each of these essays. Though Metzger engages and spring-boards from interaction wit the Roman Catholic tradition, he dialogues with other traditions. Thus Evangelical Protestants, Mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians will all find what he shares to be of benefit, strengthening their appreciation of the way the Christian calendar focuses on Jesus and his story, which is the gospel.
Advent: Jesus is Coming
What bearing does this declaration have on us here and now? As you go about taking care of last-minute Christmas shopping and preparing for Christmas festivities, or as you sit alone viewing anxious news reports across the globe, know that God's glorious peace does not come about through normal means. Not does God's favor rest on supra-ordinary types. Rather, God's peace and glory come to us through this baby lying in a manger in the face of imperial oppression old and new. (p. 27)
Christmastide: Jesus is Born!
if [Christ] had not assumed our humanity (i.e., become incarnate), he could not have healed us. Jesus assumed our humanity in order to redeem us. Or as Gregory of Nazianzus would put it, "the unassumed is the unhealed." Again, 'He has not assumed what he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.' So now, what's the big deal about Jesus' birth? Only our salvation involving Jesus' full humanity, and our full humanity, too. Jesus as the Christ could not have healed our humanity if he did not share in it fully from birth to death. (p. 32)
Jesus' birth in a manger under Rome's oppressive rule and his early life under threat by Herod's murderous pursuit should tell us that God does not promise to give us our best life now. After all, Advent does not simply point to Jesus' first coming at his birth, which multitudes of Christians celebrate today, but also to his second coming at the close of history. (p. 33)