[Note: my editor is getting ready for a night out and unavailable. I, being fully confident of having proofed and edited carefully, dare to publish on my own.]
It’s New Year’s Eve 2018. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Name in memory of the baby’s circumcision and proclamation of his divinely given name, Jesus. For Luke, things are to be done decently and in order so there can be no mistake about who he is. Maybe we need to be conscious of starting the new year off more in the name of Jesus than in the name of Alka-Seltzer.
In any case, New Year’s Eve is a strange event. It’s as if something old has been left behind, the door shut on last year, as we enter a new place and time. In truth, tomorrow will be not unlike today, and what it brings will come in large part from the accumulated events of many yesterdays. Once upon a time, time was thought to be circular, what goes around comes around, a bit wobbly perhaps, but essentially no different than what it was the last time round, and not going anywhere new.
So here is my New Year’s reflection on the nature of Jesus, time and meaning. My coffee buddy Tom, who teaches philosophy, might shake his head at me covering old sod, and not well, but it’s just a reflection, nothing more.
Jesus changed time, at least for Christians and Western civilization. Whatever time was before Jesus, his presence dramatically changed its direction and meaning. Time after Jesus was going somewhere. It had a purpose, it was on a journey. Where it had been was left behind as it went on to where it was going. But did it become linear? Physics says time is multidimensional, and I suppose it would be if we were quarks or photons, but we’re not, we’re humans living in history. We record our history in linear fashion, year by year, marking each year as if it were a new beginning when we know very well it’s not. Yet marking them serves to remind us that the cycles of the years have a direction, and we can do something to guide them for the better, at least a little, based on understanding where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go.
Time for us is history, and history is cyclical, but more like a moving spiral, a three dimensional curve. Each season returns at its appointed time, but never in quite the same way or with the same conditions as it had before, or will again. Empires rise, fall, and rise again, but never the same way twice. Economic cycles are unavoidable, their conditions recorded and studied to predict what will come, yet their next iteration is never what we expect. Generations are born and die, but each transmits what it has received, adds to it and passes it on as an eternal inheritance to those who follow. All the yesterdays are not dead and gone. They are the stuff of which today is made, and the preparation for what will come tomorrow.
Moments don’t pass into extinction, they are woven into the fabric of who we are, our memories restore them to today’s reality – for good or for ill. The possibilities of tomorrow can be anticipated with a comfortable degree of probability, goals can be set for something new, and so the work of today already lives into the future. It’s why we can anticipate and plan for what is to come, yet as with all cycles there will be a today or tomorrow that changes everything for all time. Fortunate or tragic, it will come.
Jesus did that. The curious thing, at least for Christians, is he continues to do it. He is not a person who lived several thousand years ago and whom we reverently remember. He lives now and is as present now as he was then. Moreover, he is the manifestation of the essence of God that has never not lived. Jesus transcends time. When, in this earthly presence, he bent time in a new direction, giving it purpose, he invited us to walk in that new direction toward an end that has meaning beyond the limits of time as we experience it in our short lives. Discovering that meaning is the purpose of our worship. Living into it is the work of our daily lives.