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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

Marking Time
Cecember 29, 2011

Long before our ancestors knew that the earth revolves around the sun, they marked time by those revolutions. Since there is no beginning or end to the ring of earth's orbit, the place one assigns as its "beginning" point - aka as "New Year's Day" - is entirely arbitrary. While January 1 is recognized internationally as the beginning of the year in civil calendars today, many other calendars are still in use as well. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, slides between September 5 and October 5, because it is determined not merely by the sun's orbit, but also by lunar cycles. The Christian New Year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which always occurs four Sundays before Christmas. That date can vary from November 27 to December 3, because of the variations of the days of the week on which Christmas may fall. Thus Christian and Jewish New Year's Days fall within a range of points on the earth's orbit.

For various reasons, most Christians are more attentive to the civil calendar with its perfect annual consistency than to their own Christian calendar. Our New Year's celebration focuses far more on January 1 than on the first Sunday of Advent. So this week, as we anticipate the arrival of January 1, Christians everywhere are taking stock of the previous year, and setting course for the one that lies ahead. Most Christian periodicals publish a digest of the top stories of the year - not at the dawn of Advent, but at the end of December. (Click here for an example.) January 1 is my anniversary date serving Pittsburgh Presbytery - I picked it as a start date to simplify my shifting to new state and local taxes. We make New Year's resolutions starting January 1, not the first Sunday of Advent.

So why don't Christians get fully in sync with the program, and simply match the church year to the civil year that rules almost all of our calendar-making? Surely it would make liturgical planning much more straightforward, not to mention preaching and church education calendars.

The reason we hang on to the Christian calendar as we know it is that it marks time not by the sun or the moon, but by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The earliest Christians began worshiping each Sunday because it is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. We could as easily schedule worship in sync with when we get paid, to maximize our offering-collection - on the 15th and 30th of each month. But no, we still worship on Sunday, no matter when we collect our paychecks.

Beneath this lies our deeper instinct to order life according to the pattern set by Jesus. We mark the Christian year liturgically by following the life-cycle of Jesus - his birth, his baptism, his transfiguration, his passion, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his outpouring of the Spirit.

2011 has marked some significant transitions in our life in Pittsburgh Presbytery. New pastors have joined us, others have moved elsewhere; some have retired, while others have been newly ordained. We have buried beloved members in commendation to our Lord, even as we have welcomed and baptized new ones the Lord has brought our way. We have begun a new major construction project at Crestfield, even as we have closed and sold long-beloved church buildings. Our denominational constitution has been significantly revised, granting more local determination in how we order our life together. But as significant as these milestones may be as markers of 2011's march of time, the more important question is this: How have we become more like Christ? How has our life together been brought into closer conformity to his image? Where have we grown in our expression of love for our Lord? How have we been marked more by Christ-time than by world-time?

The process of marking time in our walk with the Lord has a big theological name: Sanctification. It is the process by which we are made ever more fully into the saints we are called and destined to be.

Saints are made, not born. They grow into their identity - by the sovereign work of God's Spirit, by the intentional labors of the community fulfilling its promise to nurture in the faith those whom they baptize, and by their own attention to the practices that lend themselves to growing stronger in the Lord. What recent points in our lives can we identify as markers in our progress into sainthood?

That we may grow in Him,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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