Friday, December 31, 2010

Telling Time

Parochialism takes lots of expressions, but perhaps the least noticed is the way we tell time. Not everyone tells time the way we Americans do. The Chinese tell time differently. Their New Year begins in the spring rather than on January 1. Jews tell time differently too. Their New Year, called Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year”), is in the fall. A calendar is merely a way of organizing time for some purpose - social, cultural, commercial, administrative, or religious. How you tell time can be a telling indicator of what you value, what you think important, how you order your life.

That’s why, through the centuries, we Christians have developed our own unique way of telling time. For Christians, time-telling is a function of faith. Through the way we order our days we give witness to our faith that history is finally His-Story, and that the story of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ is finally the only story worth telling.

Our year doesn't begin on January 1st; it begins on the First Sunday of Advent with the birth of the Son of God and the beginning of the Salvation Story. It continues through Epiphany with the coming of the Magi (representing the larger, Gentile world) to worship before the Christ Child. Then in the spring for forty days called Lent through the long wilderness journey to the final week of His life we Christians join Jesus on the Way of the Cross. In early summer, on Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Spirit on the Church to empower us to be his witnesses “to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then through the long hot summer months we trace our own journey with Jesus as his contemporary disciples by remembering how our fathers and mothers of faith in the Early Church dealt with difficulty and persecution and even death in their determination to be God’s people. Finally, in late fall we culminate the journey on Christ the King Sunday when we remember that Caesars come and Caesars go and Jesus is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords Whose Kingdom and coming are sure and certain. That's how we Christians organize our days and mark our time.

Incidentally, it is both an annoyance and an embarrassment to me that we Christians permit just about anyone and everyone to tell us how to tell time – Hallmark (It’s Grandparents Day!), the ecclesiastical denomination (It’s Radio and Television Commission Sunday!). Anybody, it seems, with an agenda can co-opt the calendar for their purposes (It’s National Car Care Month!). How you tell time is telling, isn’t it!

Christians celebrate New Year's as Christians by preparing all over again for the coming of the Christ into history - into our world, into our lives, into our hearts, into the Church, and into the new year. We start it not in January, but in late November by lighting candles for the Light of the World, singing songs for the One Who makes our hearts glad, giving gifts to honor the Gift of God, and telling stories – no, not just "stories," The Story – of the Word made flesh. We call it Advent (Latin for “coming”). It is the Church’s “New Year” celebration and a reminder that no matter what the New Year brings, for the believer it will bring Christ, just in the “knick of time.”

And so, a "belated" Happy New Year!

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