A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
Epiphany and Christian Schools
January 6th was the Feast of the Epiphany. Yesterday on Jeopardy, none of the three contestants knew that. Interesting how what we just assumed everyone knew as little as thirty years ago is now just a mirage. Why might it matter?
I can’t opine on whether the Church Universal should or not, but I do have on opinion about Christian schools.
For children, story is everything. For the youngest children to wizened teenagers, sitting down and listening to a story being spoken is a magical opportunity, eagerly grasped, and often asked for. Telling stories is a critically important communication that we as adults have to grasp and be good at. For Christians, stories help entertain and lift us out of ourselves to look outwards; stories inspire us to goodness and greatness; stories communicate norms of right and wrong, love and hate, good and evil; stories are encapsulations of who we are as a covenant people; stories teach us about the nature of God – often in very subtle and sophisticated ways; stories help us to understand mystery and “through a glass darkly”.
It is in this context that I believe that Christian schools should at least consider incorporating the Church Year into their own calendars. What happens if, like the contestants on Jeopardy, our children skipped over the Feast of the Epiphany? Well, in one sense, nothing. I’m sure that in your schools you still taught about crucifixion and resurrection and inspired your children to follow Jesus. But, in another sense, it was a lost opportunity to galvanize children’s imagination around an amazing story that is critically important to us AND it ceded the conversation to the secular society around us. Many schools with a liturgical tradition do have elements of the church year as part of their celebrations. But what if that was emphasized even more? What difference would that make?
So let me pause here for a bit. How do we operate as Christian Schools in the world but not of the world? We must provide an experience that is so different from that of our secular colleagues and friends that our secular colleagues and friends are compelled to ask: who is Jesus and why do you do these interesting things? I’m talking here about living differently in our schools than they do in secular schools. Let’s take Epiphany as an example.
In the secular world, the first day of the year is January 1st. This goes back to the worship of Janus, the god of gateways and beginnings. On New Year’s Eve, we have big countdowns and parties. On New Year’s Day, we have New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have anything against any of this. But it’s not a good story and it lacks drama and excitement. The Christian New Year, on the other hand, has incredible drama and excitement.
Because the Christian New Year using the Church Year is based on the life of Jesus and the timeline is entirely different. In this Christian calendar, the first Sunday in Advent is the first day of the new year as we prepare for the coming of Jesus, the Savior of the World. What would it look like if we had a New Year’s celebration on the following Monday with worship, cake, balloons, an inspirational speech, a countdown till Jesus’ birth? And each day after that, a piece of the Christmas story was told/enacted/celebrated? The conversation between Gabriel and Mary; the visit between Mary and Elizabeth; Joseph’s own revelation; the conversation between Mary and Joseph; the trip to Bethlehem; the drama at the inn looking for a bed; the shepherds looking after their sheep; the vision of the angels. It’s what I used to do with Advent calendars growing up – each day opened up a new verse and new part of the story along with a piece of chocolate! Little wonder, I loved Advent! Chocolate and stories – what better combination can there be? Now Advent calendars are full of stupid pictures that are secular and pointless. Our schools can be an Advent calendar daily!
And Epiphany, when the children come back from their celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, the story of salvation, Epiphany is another amazing story of non-Jews being offered an opportunity to be at Jesus’ birth. What more important story for non-Jews can there be? The story is for us as well! And then the story of the wise men and Herod; the fleeing into Egypt (and all the resonance of Exodus); the attack on Bethlehem; the horrid death of Herod – surely a ‘delight’ for 5th grade boys; the return to Nazareth; the visit to Jerusalem; the encounter with Simeon; the encounter with Anna. Not to mention the birth of John, Jesus’ cousin. It’s another daily narrative that takes the birth of Jesus through two whole months, a narrative that explains who we are as a covenant people, the incredible excitement of the story that is so lost in most Christmas Eve services, the amazing drama that captivates children of all ages.
It is the task, at least in part, of Christian schools to ensure that every child knows the “story”, understands that there is a beginning and an end, knows there is a reason and a calling for every child, is amazed at the excitement of being a Christian, realizes that being a Christian is way more fun than being secular.
Story is not just a nice thing to have. Story, well-told, has a potentially transformational impact and we should grab hold of our Bibles and integrate our schools into that story in a way that goes back to the beginning of the Christian church. The first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25th is 354A.D. The Church Year goes back to the beginning of Christian worship. Let’s embrace it as the best story in the world and build it into our own school calendars.