There are many things which indicate that the Church is a little out of step with society, but this Sunday we find another one. For today, a month before everyone else, the Church marks the beginning of a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.
1 January in the minds of many indicates the end of a festive period. It’s back to work and ordinary drudgery come 2 January or shortly thereafter. The new year is an end to a period of joy. It’s a time for nostalgic retrospectives and reviews of the year completed.
The Church strikes a different note with her new year. We begin not at the end of a festive period, but with a time of preparation, the time of Advent. Yes, we give thanks for blessings past. With St Paul and the Corinthians we thank God for the ways we have been enriched, and for the gifts of the Spirit. But our focus is not in the past. Instead we look forward, “waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” (1 Cor 1:7)
Of course we look forward to the great feast of Christmas, at which we recall the birth of Christ; but that’s not the “waiting” which St Paul speaks of. Christ has already been born, over two thousand years ago. Indeed, there was no Christmas celebration in Corinth. We, like the Corinthians, are waiting for him to come again.
So the new year for the Church is not about looking back at a sad end of festivities, but looking forward in thankful hope to the eternal celebration of the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.