HAPPY NEW YEAR!
No, it is not January 1st. The liturgical (Church) year does not match New Year’s Day, the beginning of the calendar year. The Church year is distinctive. It always begins on the first Sunday of Advent, and with it comes a shift in the cycle of Scripture readings. (This year the focus is on the Gospel of St. Mark.)
Advent is the four-week liturgical season that precedes Christmas. The term “Advent” is derived from the Latin word “advents” which means “coming,” and it focuses not only on the past coming of Jesus on the first Christmas; but also on the present coming of Jesus in the gospels, the sacraments, other people, prayer, love, truth, and personal experience; and the future coming of Jesus at the Second or Final Coming at the end of the world, the Parousia or the Last Judgement.
Advent is not Lent or a miniature version of Lent. In fact, the two seasons are extremely different. Advent stresses hope and joy, Lent stresses penance and sorrow; Advent emphasizes what we need to add to our lives (e.g., grace, light, joy), while Lent emphasizes what we need to remove (sin). Advent stresses preparation with festivity! Advent features the Prophet Isaiah. How great it would be if we could read two chapters of Isaiah each day.
St. John the Baptist is the main saint of Advent. He is “the prophet of the Most High”, the immediate forerunner of Jesus, and the link between the Old Testament prophets and Jesus Himself. John the Baptist is the voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John also directed peoples’ attention from himself to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” and made one of the momentous statements in the gospels as he declared, “He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease”. I pray that all of us can have a spiritually profitable Advent as through the Bible, the Sacraments, Prayer, and Works of Charity, Jesus increases in power and brilliance in our lives!