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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Fullness of Time

As our time rolls on, as we move forward, God, in the fullness of time, the right time, enters our world as a child, becoming fixed in our reality, limited as we are, in order to adopt us, redeem us, make us free children and heirs of God.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, the feast of the Name of Jesus; texts: Galatians 4:4-7; Psalm 8; Luke 2:15-21

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Well, we’ve done it again.  We’ve traveled all the way around the sun once more, and are starting another revolution today.

Obviously, we had nothing to do with this.  The earth in its course makes its own way around our sun, along with companion planets, asteroids, planetoids, and other space debris.  It takes our planet 365 and a quarter days to make this journey.  We’re just along for the ride.

And of course, it’s completely arbitrary that today is the day we say we start a new turn, a new journey.  Yesterday, or tomorrow, could just as easily be the first or the last day.  Or any day.  For the Chinese, the new year begins sometime between late January and late February on our calendar. For the Jewish people, Rosh Hashanah is a date on the Jewish calendar which moves in our fall months, and many other cultures have many other days which they’ve designated as the day the new year begins.

Still, this is the day we’ve all learned to call the first day of the year, and so it is.  We’ve made it another time around the sun, and we call it a year, and time rolls on like an ever-flowing stream.  We find so many ways to keep track of this flow, from the smallest of nanoseconds to millennia, because knowing where we are in time, what minute, what hour, what day, what month, what year has become very important to us.

So it’s interesting that in the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians assigned for the feast of the Name of Jesus, not for New Year’s Day, Paul speaks of time, of all things.  “In the fullness of time,” Paul says, “God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, . . . that we might receive adoption as children.”   For Paul, part of the wonder of this Son of God was in fact his entry into our time, our counting, our stream.

As we begin a new year, then, it is good that we remember today that the God who stands outside our stream of time has entered it, at just the right time.

But first, let us say that there is in fact a wisdom in stopping on whatever day we call the new year, and not only celebrating that we’ve come this far, but celebrating the journey through time itself and giving thanks to God.  Most cultures do this, instinctively it seems, since such observances are found all the way back to the dawn of civilization.

So we join our many and varied ancestors in taking a moment today to look back and forward, and to ask God’s blessing in that looking.  To give thanks for another year lived in God’s grace, and to seek God’s presence and strength for the next year to come, should we all survive it.

This taking time to worship as we remember that we are in a time we do not control, a time which flowed before us and will flow beyond us, ages upon ages, is a wise practice, and deeply important to our life of faith.

As the psalmist has said, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  Teach us to recognize that our time is limited, countable, and beyond our ability to control, we pray on a day like today.  We gather here today in humility at our smallness in the vast sea of time and space, marveling at the speed at which this yearly journey seems to run the older we get, grateful for God’s ever-present help in all our days, months, years, lifetimes.

But then into this remembrance, we have this odd little eight day counting today, which on the surface might seem like nothing.  But consider what we are saying.

I’m not sure we’d be gathering to celebrate the festival of the Name of Jesus if it didn’t also happen to land on what we call New Year’s Day.  It’s a very common practice for Lutherans to worship on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.  But as we’re considering time at this start of a new year, this other time of eight days is a pretty significant intrusion, which teaches us a great deal.

It is eight days since we celebrated the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  Since he was a Jewish boy, on the eighth day of his life, as Luke dutifully records for us, he was circumcised, as a mark of God’s covenant with Abraham and his family.  And at that same time, he was given his name, Jesus, “God saves.”

The Church in its wisdom has seen fit to call this a festival day, the first one counting time after his birth, but certainly not the last, as we now spend almost half the Church Year walking through the life and ministry of the Son of God.

We claim a great deal about this baby whose birth we are now celebrating, whose circumcision happened on the eighth day.  Son of God, we say.  Very God of very God, begotten, not made.  The Word of God made flesh, now living among us.

This then, is the marvel of this simple noting of eight days today: the eternal Son of the Father, present at creation, beyond all time that we can fathom, suddenly is in an earthly countdown.

Think of that.  Is there any way to count the days of the Triune God?  Annual birthdays?  Ridiculous – in the first place, God is not limited to our solar system, so a year is irrelevant.  But in the second place, the Triune God is, was, and always shall be.  So, no birthday.  How about other anniversaries?  Again, no point, with the same objection as to our solar years.

God simply exists, outside of all time and space, having created a universe that lives in its own time, marking the passage.  So while beings on other planets, should they exist, would have different years, their planets having different revolution cycles around their stars, those beings are still more like us than like God.  They’re in our time.  They’re in our space.  Their star is related to our star in some way and has its own life-cycle and time-flow.

But we gather today to say that eight days after he was born among us, the eternal Son of God was circumcised.

This is a profound mystery, if only we stop and consider it.  The God for whom time does not exist has become limited to our time, so much so that we can count the days, keep track of passing time.  The Son of God whose being is beyond understanding and transcends all dimensions has subjected himself to a surgical procedure on a human baby’s body.

Suddenly, this Son of God, existing before time, has a birthday.  Anniversaries.  Yearly celebrations.  This Son of God ages, for the first time ever.  Bleeds, for the first time, ever.  Has to light candles when the day turns to night, for the first time ever.

The God beyond all time and space is now stuck in our timeline, on our planet, along for the ride with the rest of us.  And that’s an astonishing thought to think.

So when we gather to mark a new year and give thanks to God, coinciding with this strange little remembrance, we are faced with a huge question: why would God do this?

Noting our time as it passes actually helps lift up how remarkable it is that God has entered it.  The appointed psalm for today, the familiar eighth psalm, says it so well: when we consider the vastness of the creation, of time and space, it’s beyond our comprehension that the God who made all this cares for us.

This is not human arrogance, this psalm, assuming we are the crown of all things.  This is humility in seeing how tiny we are in the massive expanse of God’s creation and wondering at God’s attention and love.

When we mark a new year, gathering here to pray for the one to come, we remind ourselves how limited we are, how bound to time we are.  That we also mark this very human event in the life of the Son of God irrevocably reminds us of the mind-bending truth that God actually did come to be with us.  That God has willingly accepted all sorts of limitations for the sake of being with us.

And it is Paul who gives us the amazing answer to “why”: that we might ourselves become children of God.  God enters our time to live with us, be on this ride of time with us, that we might in turn be heirs of God, living with God.

There was no way for us to comprehend the Triune God if God remained outside our time.  By being limited in our time, in our body, in our world, the Son of God could make himself known to us, and likewise all of who God is.  And then in adopting us as children, invite us into the life that is God’s that transcends all time.

Now we belong to Christ, and this life of God’s is ours.  Now, though we still live and know time in this limited, human way, we are joined to the life of God which lives and moves beyond time.  We know God, because God became stuck with us in the fullness of time.  And that’s our joy today.

So we look to 2014, what we call a new year, with hope and promise.

Not just because we find ourselves still alive on this January 1, and not just because we’ve arbitrarily decided it was time to recognize our yearly revolution around the sun.  Though it is good and wise for us to give thanks to God for this.

But chiefly because in this child born to the world God has entered our time and become known to us, and we have found light in the darkness, hope in the despair, and joy in the sorrow of this time-bound world.  We have been joined in Christ’s death and resurrection to eternal life, life beyond time, and so we now are living as people in time and out of it.  People bound to this stream and joined to a deeper, richer, life-giving stream of God’s eternal time.

And now we continue in our time as children of the God of eternal time, and in us God’s involvement with our world, God’s connection and grace and light for our world continues.  God continues to be stuck with this world, in this time, through us.

So perhaps it’s about time, perhaps it’s now the fullness of time, that we got about our business as God’s children.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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