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The Church Year

Here's a great, concise introductory summary of The Church Year. 

Transfiguration Sunday
The most splendorous and radiant manifestation of Jesus’ deity is shown to us on the last Sunday of the Epiphany Season. The event is the climax of the season. It is the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Taking Peter, John, and James, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray. “And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered and His clothing became dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah of Old Testament days “appeared in glory and spoke to him of his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Peter, James, and John were asleep for a while, but “when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” Then, “a cloud came and overshadowed them” and “a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!'”
Such a splendid facet of the diamond of Epiphany! It is one that also shows us the glory that Jesus will share with us in the world to come.
Epiphany
Epiphany is from a Greek word, meaning to "reveal" or "make manifest." The season of Epiphany is our time to focus on the revelation of "who" Jesus is: both true God and man.
Epiphany is season of light but is squeezed between Christmas and Lent. The message of this season ought to shine brightly for it teaches an important topic: the mission of the church. It progresses from bright star guiding the Magi to the shining dove at the Baptism of Jesus to the glory of the Transfiguration. The structure of the season proclaims the mission of God’s people.

The story of the Magi is that of distant people coming to Christ. The light draws the wise men from far off to worship Him. The Church calls people who are isolated from God to come. But the invitation is not to some idea or theory but to “God in man made manifest” (LSB 394). The Church’s mission is to call sinners to communion with the life-giving flesh of Christ.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany takes us to the waters of the Jordan. There John baptized Jesus, who numbers Himself among sinners. The bright dove, the Holy Spirit, points out Christ in the water. Outreach to the world and into the Church points to the same water. Those whom the mission calls to join Christ and His Church are called to the light of Christ in Baptism.

The remaining Sundays of Epiphany focus on the ministry of Jesus. He is the light of the world. He preaches. He prays. He heals those afflicted by Satan. In other words, He does mission work. The Church does also. Jesus also calls us the light of the world. The mission of the Church is like Jesus’ ministry: long and patient. The Church’s mission is not to simply bring in as many as we can through the front door. It is to keep shining the light of Christ through His word, season after season, so that those living in darkness may continue to see the great light.

The finale of the Epiphany season is the Transfiguration. God in flesh is at the center but now not Magi but the glorified saints of old and the trembling disciples surround Christ. The light that pointed to Jesus at His Baptism now shines through Him. This is the goal of the Church’s work: to bring people into God’s presence for eternity. The light of Transfiguration shows us how important the Church’s work really is. The mission of the Church is aimed at that divine joy.


Advent
(Usually the end of November to Dec 24th). 

Here's a great page to find some online devotional materials for you and your family for Advent. Just go here.

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Looking for ways you can celebrate Advent at home? Go here.

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What is the history and significance of the Season of Advent, and what's the meaning of the Advent candles and wreath?

The word "advent" is from the Latin word for "coming," and as such, describes the "coming" of our Lord Jesus Christ into the flesh.

Advent begins the church year because the church year begins where Jesus' earthly life began--in the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation. After Advent comes Christmas, which is about his birth; then Epiphany, about his miracles and ministry; then Lent, about his Calvary-bound mission; then Easter, about his resurrection and the sending of the apostles; and then Ascension (40 days after Easter) and Pentecost, with the sending of the Holy Spirit.

The first half of the church year (approximately December through June) highlights the *life* of Christ.

The second half (approximately June through November) highlights the *teachings* of Christ.

The parables and miracles play a big part here. That's "the church year in a nutshell," and it should help reveal how Advent fits into "the big picture."

Advent specifically focuses on Christ's "coming," but Christ's coming manifests itself among us in three ways--past, present, and future. The readings which highlight Christ's coming in the past focus on the Old Testament prophecies of his incarnation at Bethlehem. The readings which highlight Christ's coming in the future focus on his "second coming" on the Last Day at the end of time. And the readings which highlight Christ's coming in the present focus on his ministry among us through Word and Sacrament today.

The traditional use of Advent candles (sometimes held in a wreath) originated in eastern Germany even prior to the Reformation. As this tradition came down to us by the beginning of this century, it involved three purple candles and one pink candle. The purple candles matched the purple paraments on the altar (purple for the royalty of the coming King). The pink candle was the third candle to be lit (not the fourth) on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. "Gaudete" means "Rejoice!" in Latin, and is the first word of the traditional Introit for that day (TLH, p. 54) which is taken from Philippians 4:4. ("Rejoice! . . . the Lord is near"). Hence a "pink" candle was used to signify "rejoicing." Some also included a white "Christ candle" in the middle to be lit during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25- January 5).

The concept of giving each candle a name, i.e., Prophecy, Bethlehem, Shepherd and Angel, etc., is a relatively novel phenomenon and probably originates with certain entrepreneurial publishers seeking to sell Advent candles and devotional booklets.

There are many beautiful customs and traditions surrounding Advent, as well as a load of history concerning its development. These matters would be better found in books than here. Here are a couple:

Lee A. Maxwell, The Altar Guild Manual, Lutheran Worship Edition (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House , 1996)

Lee A. Maxwell,  The Altar Guild Manual, Lutheran Service Book Edition (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House , 2008).

Fred L. Precht, Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992).