THE CHRISTIAN YEAR – CHRISTMAS

For many people, the Christmas Season begins in earnest at the beginning of December, and ends on Christmas Day.  In the church, however, the Christmas season doesn’t begin until Christmas Day.  Christmas is the shortest of the 6 seasons of the Christian Year — just 12 days in length, December 25 to January 5.  Depending on how the calendar works out, it has either 1 or 2 Sundays.

     During the season of Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, which fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  We also celebrate the fact that, in Jesus, God actually entered the world, and lived for a time among human beings as a human being.  Most of our cultural Christmas celebrations are over by Christmas Day, and perhaps this gives us space to celebrate the spiritual elements of Christmas during the “twelve days of Christmas”.

     Many Eastern Orthodox churches follow the old Julian calendar, which is 13 days “behind” the more accurate Gregorian calendar that we use today.  In the Julian calendar, December 25 falls on the same day as January 7 in the Gregorian calendar.  This is why some churches celebrate Christmas on January 7.

     The symbolic color for Christmas is white, signifying joy and celebration.

WORSHIP NOTES

     It’s a long-standing tradition in Presbyterian churches to conclude the responsive psalm by singing or speaking a doxology called the Gloria Patri (a doxology is a brief expression of praise to God).  The Gloria is an ancient Latin doxology: Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto; sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum.  Amen.  The standard modern translation in English is Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

            The Gloria Patri serves as a kind of “Christianizing formula” at the end of the psalm, emphasizing that the God spoken of in the psalm is the same God whom we worship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  At one time, the Gloria was commonly sung to an “Anglican chant” tune in Presbyterian churches, and the 1972 edition of the hymnbook provided three such tunes.  The current hymnbook has two settings of the Gloria, one at #594 (the old translation) and the other at #684 (the modern translation), neither of which are Anglican chants.

WORSHIP NOTES

     Reading or singing the Psalms has been a traditional element of Christian worship since the earliest days of the Christian church.  In Presbyterian worship, it has been customary to use the psalms in two ways — to sing metrical paraphrases of them, such as those found at the beginning of the hymnbook (#1-108), and to read them responsively.

     Like the other Scripture readings read in the service, the psalm for a given Sunday can be chosen in a number of ways.  In our services, we generally read (or sometimes sing) the psalm specified for that day in the Revised Common Lectionary (a list of Scripture readings for every Sunday and holy day of the year).  In the Revised Common Lectionary, the psalms are chosen generally to reflect the theme of the Old Testament reading for the day, and, for this reason, the psalm traditionally is read following the Old Testament reading, rather than preceding it as we do.  Occasionally, the Lectionary specifies a poetic passage from outside the Book of Psalms, such as Isaiah 12 or Luke 1.46-55.