This is a confusing time. Quite literally and figuratively, I guess, for I can’t quite figure out the world any more. Not that I ever could but it doesn’t feel as that long ago when I seemingly had certainly a more relaxed understanding of it. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. I think many are living with a greater sense of, not only confusion but, apprehension, if not outright anxiety, about the times. “What will happen today,” is a question many ask fearing the worst I’m afraid.
Figuratively, at first glance, the liturgy seems to offer a placebo of sorts – something disconnected with time. Time here at worship, seems altogether different when we allow ourselves the opportunity to enter in. But it can be confusing as well….see if you can follow along:
Nine days ago we celebrated Christmas – the Birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, revealed to Israelites as the “Messiah” – the Anointed One, the One chosen before time, God made flesh. The Gospel confirms all this as it announces Jesus as the very Word that IS God, made flesh to dwell amongst us. (That was nine days ago; three days later . . .)
The Sunday after Christmas, on the Feast of the Holy Family, in the Gospel we find a twelve year old Jesus preaching and teaching in the temple.
Three days ago, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a holy day of obligation ending the Octave of Christmas on New Years day, we’re back in the manger as we hear of the circumcision of Jesus which was the Hebrew custom (law actually) to occur eight days after the birth of a male child.
Today on this feast of the Epiphany, we are still in the manger as the three wise men approach with their gifts for the king Jesus. (If you’re confused thus far just do a little research on this feast – one of the most ancient in the Church. It will make your head spin.) In the Eastern & Orthodox churches today is celebrated as Christmas, replete with the giving of gifts and all. In some cultures and traditions, gifts are given each of the twelve days of Christmas ending on Epiphany – but wait today is only NINE, not twelve, days after Christmas that’s because the Feast of the Epiphany is January 6th but in most places it is transferred to the closest Sunday – so some years there are more days, some years fewer days than the traditional twelve. Not confused yet? The Feast of the Epiphany – called the “Theophany” by the Eastern Church because as Christmas was celebrated as the revealing of the Messiah to the Jews, today celebrates the revealing of Jesus as the Messiah to the whole world represented by the three Gentile “kings or wise men or astrologers” – and is marked by some as the end of the Christmas season. The Church however, says that the Christmas Season ends next Sunday on the Baptism of the Lord.
Even though we will still be in “Christmas” we will no longer in the manger but rather the Gospel next Sunday moves us ahead thirty years only to go back to the Advent call of John the Baptist to make ready for Jesus who is baptized by his hand and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
And if all that is not confusing enough, today happens in a new calendar year of 2016 even though the Church year began over a month ago on November 29, 2015.
Surely God has a plan for all the confusion. As is always the case – the confusion is not God’s, but ours. God’s plan, I believe, is to remind us that His time is distinct from ours yet happens right smack dap amidst what we call “our time.” We think in a linear way: like a long line dotted with events that mark the days, months and years. I just helped my wife proof the yearly calendar she puts together for her family that constitutes over 150 people with some roughly 200 entries of events that mark births, anniversaries, even deaths which thankfully are few. But this is “our time” – a long line that tells not only our story but the story of the world throughout history. God’s time tells a story as well that happens amidst the context of “our time” but it is not linear at all but cyclical. It is what we call “liturgical or PASCHAL time” celebrating, of course, the paschal mystery – the entire redemptive mystery of Christ’s birth; His ministry; His suffering, death and resurrection. We all walk past a visual “calendar” of paschal time as you enter the chapel. The liturgical calendar is one “slice” of this cyclical time wherein each day represents the telling of some component of that saving mystery. It is a time we tell over a three year Sunday and two year daily cycle of readings on the Sundays, feasts, solemnities, memorials and days throughout the seasons of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany, Lent, Triduum, Easter and Ordinary times of it’s telling.
God, simply and solely, is telling us that amidst our literal, linear time is His cyclical, paschal time is recalling the story of our salvation so that we may NOT be confused; So that we may NOT be living with apprehension or anxiety; So that we are NOT living in fear. BUT living in the sure and certain hope that HE through work of His Son, Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit has in fact already redeemed the days of our lives – the days of yesterday, today and tomorrow. In Oasis, we have a sign that sums all of this up. It says, “Fear not tomorrow. God is already there.”
God’s time is a time amidst time. Whether some days we dwell in the linear days of the daily grind or find ourselves celebrating the days of the glorious mystery of God, may the God of our salvation bring us love, joy and peace. For this is why God came. Emmanuel – God with us. This is what we celebrate each time we gather – God’s time right smack dab amidst out time to remind us we are never alone – He is always with us.
+ Dcn. Tom
3 January 2016