Marking Time: Shaped by God’s Grand Story

The Reality of Marked Time

Every year, Christians around the world see this season as special. Advent is like a big countdown to Christmas—a day of abundant joy, gifts, and feasting. But have you ever considered why we even have Christmas? I mean, we know it’s to celebrate Jesus’ birth. But why invent a day dedicated to this? And why make up a season before it called Advent?

We as humans seem wired to mark time—that is, we instinctually set apart time that has marked us. We celebrate anniversaries of marriages and deaths. We dedicate days like MLK day or Memorial day. We even devote months to things like Black History Month. We set aside these days because they each tell a story.

Those stories that have most shaped us become the days we most honor. If you lost a parent on 9/11, it becomes a deeply revered day. As I increasingly learn about the story of slavery and inequality in our country, Juneteenth has become a more important day to me. And so we mark time to retell the stories that have marked us.

In God’s redemptive story, he also marks time. In the early books of the Bible, God lays out a whole holiday calendar for his people—special days that would help them remember and be shaped by his grand story. (Check out the sermon audio below for more on that!) For generations upon generations, followers of the Lord have marked time.

So it’s no surprise that after Jesus’ earthly ministry, Christians marked time around God’s redemptive story, celebrating the key moments in the life of Jesus: his birth, death, resurrection. In other words, with countless stories trying to narrate our lives, Christians mark time around Jesus so that his life might re-narrate our own.

Marking Time Around The Life of Christ

From the beginning of the Bible, God’s people have had a certain rhythm—a weekly sabbath. This practice shapes our weeks, encouraging us to cease from constant work and frenzy that we may be people who rest and delight.

Not only do we have a weekly rhythm, we also have an annual rhythm: the church year. In it, we simply retrace the life of Jesus, longing for his love and justice, hope and shalom to shape our lives and world. Some try to make this overly complicated, but it’s really quite simple.

You’re likely familiar with the heart of this calendar: Christmas and Easter. The less familiar parts essentially serve as preparation and application of these holidays.

We prepare for the joy of Christmas in Advent, and we see it applied in Epiphany—the light going into the world. We prepare for the joy of Easter in Lent and see it applied in Pentecost—the Spirit bringing the resurrection hope into the world.

As we follow this story of Jesus, we anticipate his coming, rejoice at his incarnation, join in his revelation, reflect on his crucifixion, celebrate his resurrection, and rest in his ascension.

Created by Third Church Virginia.

The other half of the year is simply our story—the Holy Spirit cultivating new life in and through us. Some call this “ordinary time,” recognizing how even the most mundane aspects of our lives are important in God’s redemptive story.

What’s the Point of Marking Time?

The point isn’t on marking time. It’s on being re-narrated by the gospel story. If you want mercy and justice in this land, mark time that shapes you into God’s heart for mercy and justice. If you want to love God and neighbor, mark time that helps you receive the love of God—especially seen through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

The whole point of practices that mark time is to move the life of Jesus from a good and familiar story to one that redeems and heals your deepest hurts, fears, and longings. Either the story of Jesus is like the story of Santa Clause or it’s the Great Story that will undo sickness, sadness, pain, and death—it will reverse injustice and restore what the locust has eaten.

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight

This calendar is not a rule but an invitation. It’s a chance to pause our frenetic lives and live into a different story. As this season’s consumerism preaches the story of materialistic happiness, may we be re-narrated by how Immanuel—God with us—is the true, lasting joy and hope for all the world.

Practices for Advent & Christmas

Here’s a handful of practices for this season. Perhaps you choose a couple to try on this year to help see and savor the beauty of Jesus a little more.

Notice Your Longings

Take a few days to note—actually write down—what you long for. They may be longings of the moment or more existential longings. Either way, what do your longings reveal about your story and the story you want to live in? Consider how God’s redemptive story beautifully affirms or re-narrates those longings.

Retell the Advent & Christmas Story

Read through the story. The advent devotionals we gave out trace the narrative of Christ’s promised coming.

Or listen to an album that creatively and beautifully recounts this story. Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God or Caroline Cobb’s A Home & A Hunger.

Physically Mark the Time

As we decorate for the holidays, are there decorations that could remind you of the hope of Jesus?

  • Lighting advent candles to show the growing light coming into the world.
  • Using a Jesse tree if you have kids
  • Decking the halls—the whole point of greenery is to remind us of the new life Jesus brings!
  • Bake a birthday cake. Christmas is a birthday party after all!

Celebrate Christmas Anew

Consider how to celebrate Christmas in a way that makes your heart delight in Jesus. On a day that so easily encourages materialism and greed, how could you celebrate in a way that points your heart towards joy in Jesus?

  • Sing carols. Or listen to some together. The classic Christmas carols are full of the beauty of the incarnation.
  • Frame your gift-giving time. What would it be like to simply introduce or conclude your gift giving time by sharing about how Jesus is the greatest gift and joy? And all these little gifts are just appetizers for the gift of his presence.

Imagine Future Celebrations

Looking forward to Christ’s victory over death, imagine how you could celebrate Easter in a way that would bring you and others abundant joy. In what ways could you prepare that would help you rejoice in the victory of Jesus?

Even in dreaming, notice what feels like rules. And what feels life-giving. The goal isn’t legalism but abundant joy!

Sermon Audio

Resources

This is an easy read that considers sacred practices in everyday life. Although there’s a chapter on the church year, it’s far more a primer on how our habits—even in the most mundane of places—can provide moments of sacred significance.

Living the Christian Year

This book is a great intro to the Christian year with readable explanations and some simple devotionals for each season.

If you’re still on the fence about this whole church year thing, check out this article by our friend Tim LeCroy who takes a deeper biblical & historical dive into its origin and usage.

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