Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, we thank you that you are the God of Advent, the God who comes to His people. We thank you have already welcomed us into your presence this morning, and we ask that your Spirit continue your great work in us now through your word, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!
Deuteronomy 6 calls upon the conquering people of God to love Him with everything they are, and for this love to be evidenced all day long, everywhere they go so that they do not forget (Dt. 6:12). This is based on the overwhelming graciousness of God (Dt. 6:10-11, 18-19, 21-23), and the calendar of Israel was designed to regularly remind Israel of that grace and to be that grace for them.
Feasts as Memorials
The foundational feast of the Israelite calendar was the Sabbath (Lev. 23:3), and central to keeping the Sabbath was “memorializing” it, remembering it (Ex. 20:8-11, Dt. 5:15). And the central things being remembered were God’s great acts of creation and redemption. Almost all of the feasts are “holy convocations” and thus “Sabbath days” and “memorials,” but they are also given to remember certain historic events. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were celebrated as the high memorial of the Exodus (Ex. 12:2, 13:3-10), and the Feast of Tabernacles memorialized the fact that God had led his people through the wilderness in tents (Lev. 23:41-43). The Feast of Weeks was to be kept so that “you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt” (Dt. 16:12). The Sabbath before the Day of Atonement included the blowing of memorial trumpets (Lev. 23:24), probably as a reminder of the Sinai covenant. Likewise the sabbatical year was a memorial (Dt. 15:15). At the center of all of these memorials is worship, which is why our high memorial is our Lord’s Day Eucharist.
Filling Life with Memorials
God didn’t stop with marking time. Along with the repeated command to “remember,” God established numerous ways to remember in the life of Israel. The daily sacrifices were acts which God used to cause his name to be remembered (Ex. 20:24). Justice to the strangers and fatherless was to be a memorial of God’s justice in redeeming Israel out of Egypt (Dt. 24:18). Likewise, harvesting regulations were meant to memorialize God’s deliverance of Israel out of slavery (Dt. 24:19-22). Even their clothing was to include reminders: the tassels on their garments were memorials (Num. 15:39). And the general command to put the law everywhere is getting at the same point (Dt. 6:1-9, 12, 20-25). And the question really comes down to thankfulness. As the priests and kings of this new world in Christ (Rev. 1:6), what will we remember to be thankful for? People will always rejoice in something, they will always remember something on their calendars, the question is not whether but which.
If thankfulness is the foundation of remembering, then church calendar keeping cannot be an opportunity for rivalry, vainglory, or crankiness. It is a matter of freedom, and freedom means living by the Spirit. All of this is about joy before the Lord; we should love excuses to give thanks and remember God’s goodness. Related to this point, is that thankfulness and joy result in obedience to God and love toward our neighbors. This leaves no room for shallow, hypocritical, and ignorant bliss on the one hand or dour, pietistic puddle-glumming on the other. And remember what this is teaching your children. Thankfulness trusts and obeys: repenting, believing, rejoicing.
And this helps to explain how a “festival calendar” can include days and seasons of joy and penitence. Fundamentally, joy and thankfulness is the foundation of true repentance (2 Cor. 7:9-11).
We must also note that the overwhelming emphasis of Israel’s calendar was celebratory. While the Day of Atonement was a day of affliction and other fasts and penitential days were introduced later in Israel’s history, and Jesus fully expects his people to fast (Mt. 6:16-16, 9:14ff), the tenor of the calendar is one of rejoicing and gratitude. As we recover the church calendar we want our memorials to be feasts, high celebrations full of joy and thanksgiving. And this means that principally we want to make a big deal about the life of Christ who is the greater Joshua.
Last, it has been noted that the memorial calendar was tied in numerous ways to the care of neighbors, strangers, widows, and orphans. One of the ways we can gauge faithfulness is by the impact it has on the people nearby. We want our celebration of the church calendar to not only be a blessing for Trinity Reformed Church, we want the city of Moscow to be thankful that we’ve recovered this ancient wisdom. This can only be the case if we love God with everything we are, and that is only possible if we remember the God of Advent, the God who loves his people and comes to their aid.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Kind Father, you have brought us into a good land, flowing with milk and honey. We have all kinds of material benefits and blessings, and we have been brought into fellowship with you through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. We confess that we have hardly begun to fathom what all of this means, but we ask that as we celebrate the life of Jesus throughout this calendar year, we would more and more be partakers of that endless life that is yours. Through Jesus, who came to give us that abundant life and taught us to pray, singing…