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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Eternity Breaks Into Our Bounded Time

The nativity stories – read during Christmas (and this is still Christmas) – found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, treat the birth of Jesus as a historical event.  Luke seems especially keen to fix historical dates to his story of Jesus’ birth, telling us that it occurred in the days of Caesar Augustus, and when Quirinius was governor of Syria. That the conflicting details of these two accounts of his birth have led theologians and historians to debate the veracity and historicity, is to be set aside this morning.  It’s enough to accept them as historical stories – stories located within the human perception of the flow of time and space.  This is the kind of time we might describe as chronos time – clock time. (L’Engle, 93)[i]

This is the kind of time that had a beginning, that exists because of masses in motion throughout the universe; this chronos time moves inexorably one second after sequential second, tick, tick, tick, 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour into the future.  This is the kind of time in which we live most of our lives. 

But our lectionary readings for this last Sunday of the Christmas season include reading from John’s gospel as well as a reading from the apocryphal (or deuterocanonical) book Sirach that each reflect upon the timeless working of God’s presence in  kairos time, non-linear time (wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey), the kind of time that Madeline L’Engle describes as, “Real time.  God’s time.  That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time.” (L’Engle, 98)

It is in the beginning with God.  It is with God before the beginning. It is the timelessness before time, the when before the when when there was only silence.  And it is in this timeless time that we hear the voice of Wisdom – the voice, the word of God speaking.

“I came forth from the mouth of the Most High,
    and covered the earth like a mist.
I dwelt in the highest heavens,
    and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.
Alone I compassed the vault of heaven
    and traversed the depths of the abyss.
Over waves of the sea, over all the earth,
    and over every people and nation I have held sway.
Among all these I sought a resting place;
    in whose territory should I abide?[ii]

Wisdom, she speaks to us, calls us, raising her voice for us to hear.  She was there in the timelessness before time; she was there at the beginning when there were no heights and no depths.[iii]  Wisdom as the spoken word of God, came forth and covered the Earth like a mist, over the sea, over the waves, into the vaults of heaven and down through the depths of the abyss.  Wisdom filled time and space.

Yet it was not enough that God and the Wisdom of God should inhabit a timelessness that remains inaccessible to us.  “God who is Spirit at work in the tragic and beautiful world to vivify and renew all creatures through the gracious power of her indwelling, liberating love, is present yet again through the very particular history of one human being, Jesus of Nazareth.  The one who is divine love, gift, and friend, becomes manifest in time in a concrete gestalt, the loving gifting, and befriending first-century Jewish carpenter turned prophet (Johnson, 150).”[iv]
“Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance.’
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.[v]

When the chronos-time was right, the kairos-time burst in upon us. Eternity broke into our bounded time.  “In the hopeless time of sin” when “shadows deep had fallen,”[vi]  when our darkened lives were bounded by birth and death – the timeless word of God was spoken and the Wisdom of God became enfleshed as Mary’s little boy. 

Paul describes Jesus as the wisdom of God, saying, “…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [vii]  This is wisdom that to outsiders and those who refuse to believe, would seem foolish, weak, frail and helpless.

And the Word became flesh, putting her tent down among us, dwelling in space and time – in ordinary clock time.  (It is fitting then, that “Ordinary Time” follows Christmas in the Church’s liturgical calendar…”)  And we have seen this glory, living among us, living within us.

Our lives, once bounded by the fixed constraints of time and space, bookended by birth and death are now opened.  We are lifted up into the kairos time of God. We are free. We have light and life in Jesus of Nazareth.

Hear the Word of God, the Voice of Wisdom as she calls to us this morning:

“Come to me, you who desire me,
and eat your fill of my fruits.
For the memory of me is sweeter than honey,
and the possession of me sweeter than the honeycomb.
Those who eat of me will hunger for more,
 and those who drink of me will thirst for more.
Whoever obeys me will not be put to shame,
and those who work with me will not sin.”[viii]

[i] L’Engle, Madeline Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, Harold Shaw Publishers, Wheaton IL, 1980.
[ii] Sirach 24:3 – 7 (NRSV)
[iii] Proverbs 8: 22 - 24
[iv] Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse,
The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1998.
[v] Sirach 24: 8 – 12 (NRSV)
[vi] Traditional Catalonian Christmas carol Lo Desembre Congelat (Cold December Flies Away)
[vii] 1 Corinthians 1: 23– 24
[viii] Sirach 24: 19 – 22 (NRSV)

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