Here's an idea:
This year I was struck again, as I am every year, by how odd it seems to preach on the Baptism of Christ the week after Epiphany. Especially since Candlemas - when Jesus is 40 days old - comes weeks later.
So I started wondering if we could move the feast of the Baptism of Christ to the Sunday before Lent. Then, the calendar would follow the dramatic narrative. Jesus is baptised, hears God's confirmation of his identity and call, and immediately goes out to the desert for 40 days and nights.
And then a colleague on twitter (@trinheadmaster) mused that we could do with some Ordinary Time between Epiphany and Candlemas, and I agreed. But then I thought - if we were to move the Baptism, why not move Candlemas to the Sunday after Epiphany? It is currently 40 days after Christmas because that fits when Jewish babies were presented in the Temple. But how many people find that a meaningful resonance nowadays? And if we moved it, then we would have a solid 'Season of Jesus' Childhood', made up of 2 weeks of Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas.
We often bemoan the fact that nobody takes Christmas season seriously in our society, and that Advent has effectively become Christmas. I wonder if giving the period of 4 weeks after Christmas a solid focus on Jesus' childhood might revitalise this post-Christmas period. We could even make the following week focus on that childhood visit to the Temple for good measure.
And what, then, of Advent? The idea of four weeks of fasting has long gone, however much some may miss it. And there are few churches that manage to avoid singing carols in Advent - and those that do are generally seen as stodgy and even (ironically) as not getting into the Spirit of Christmas. And having missed Advent Sunday this year - I was away - I really did miss it, but was immediately plunged into a whirl of carol services and the like.
On Twitter last year, there was a very spirited debate about the pink candle in the Advent wreath. Apart from those raised in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, nobody had the faintest idea that it was meant to symbolise a lightening of the Advent fast for 'Gaudete Sunday'. Nobody fasts for Advent anyway, so lightening the fast is pointless. And mine was not the only church that vaguely assumed it must be meant for Mary, being pink!
So I wonder...what if we reinvented Gaudete Sunday, and used it to split Advent into two? The first two weeks could be very properly kept as Advent, focusing in particular on the Second Coming of Christ, and the Four Last Things. It would not be ridiculously hard to keep most Christmas events until after the 2nd Sunday in Advent, whereas refusing to hold any until after Christmas day itself seems absurd and impractical. But then after the 2nd Sunday, the last two weeks could be very properly refocused on excitement and anticipation about the coming of Christmas.
So, I seem to be proposing a modest rewrite of the liturgical calendar between Advent and Candlemas!
1. Advent is divided into two fortnights.
Advent 1 & Advent 2: Traditional Advent themes of Judgement, 2nd Coming, etc.
Advent 3, Gaudete Sunday is reinstated as the beginning of Christmas season - looking forward to Christmas. The weeks of Advent 3 & 4 are thus properly filled with Carol services etc.
2.Candlemas is moved from 2nd Feb to the Sunday after Epiphany, and possibly the week after that is focused on Jesus' later childhood. The 3 or 4 Sundays after Christmas thus become a 'Season of Jesus as a Child', encouraging a longer period of focus on the reality and implications of the incarnation. After this there is a period of Ordinary Time.
3. The Baptism of Christ is moved from the Sunday after Epiphany to the Sunday before Lent.
What do you think?
(post edited slightly to correct an error and explain why Candlemas is currently 2 Feb).