Christmas Eve

S. Christmas Eve.23 Luke 2:1-20

“Fulfilled the time was, to give birth to, for herAnd the shepherds said: let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass.”

Augustine said: “I know what time is; until someone asks me to define it.” It takes a wise and brave man to admit such limits to his knowledge—like only a good driver knows when he’s not a good driver anymore. (I’m still good. Seeing eye-rolls in my family’s pew 😉

Anyway, Augustine said this because he was stuck on an oddity Genesis 1. The sun, moon, and stars weren’t created until day 3. So how was time being measured on days 1 and 2? Huh? Interesting question. Augustine concluded that time is a subjective experience for us but God’s time, heaven’s time is quite different.

St. Paul writes in Galatians 4: “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Interestingly, the Greek translated as “fullness” πληρωμα is the same root-word the ESV (ploddingly!) translates in vs. 6 of our Gospel “the time came for her to give birth”. Literally, the Greek reads like this: [Yoda voice] “Mmm, mmm, fulfilled the time was, to give birth to, for her”. Yes, Virginia. Literally translated, NT Greek like Yoda sounds, it does!

This more literal is not only more in line with St. Paul, it’s more delightfully ambiguous, too. What exactly does Mary gives birth to in Bethlehem? The fullness of time? Or the baby Jesus? Maybe, just “YES!”?

Now, the modern world, since the so-called “Enlightenment” of the 17th century, has an amazing way making the most wonderful time… dull. Tonight, my goal is to make this Christmastime more wonderful and strange again, for you…

I you could get in touch with your inner 5 year old, it would help. “And away we go…”

Thanks to Hume’s, Kant’s, and Adam Smith’s 17th century efforts, we no longer puzzle, Yoda-like, with Augustine, over the nature of time. We know what time is: TIME IS MONEY! So, get back to work, and “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!”

While I wrote that last sentence mainly to get in a “Home Alone” reference (which, along with “Die Hard”, greatest Christmas movie, ever 😉 it might be a fair summary of the difference between our post-Enlightenment age and the age of the ancient Christians, like Augustine and Luther. To quote “On the Road” like a twa… erp, we think “we know TIME!” but, that know-it-all thinking leads to living the “un-magnificent lives of adults”, and only makes time plod along, one damn thing after another, until we’ve lost the childlike wonder we used to know at Christmastime

Most modern adults think time is a commodity to be managed efficiently, for profit and power. Like Sauron in “Lord of the Rings”, we’ve forged our (digital) rings of power to make everything work for our whims (and hide our mistakes).

Take what preachers have done to Christmas, please! We’ve turned it into an historical event (of dubious facticity) where Jesus entered our time to give us a few little life-hacks to get us through those dreary days when Xanax and alcohol aren’t doing the trick quite as well as they used to. It’s just information for us to apply to the world for our advantage.

In a delightful essay I read recently, Ephraim Radner has a different take: “the Incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth is not ‘in time’; rather, the Nativity gathers time into itself. God does not “apply” Jesus to a diseased and broken world as therapy… After all, disease and brokenness seem to persist in time long after the divine therapy. So perhaps the whole temporal framework we take for granted is faulty.

“The ‘fullness of time’ is actually the perfect, ‘completed’ gift of God himself in creation. The perfect time is not when God becomes man; perfect time is the Son, who is ‘before’ the foundation of the world… the time of our life is enrolled in his flesh, his words, his touch, his movement across Palestine, his clothing, his mother, his family, his birth. All of this, the detailed life of Jesus, constitutes all time, fulfills all time, including our own.

Put simply, the Son did not enter into our time; rather, our time flows out from his… The Son of God did not come to be applied to our lives, as too many preachers pretend; we are called to be applied to him. Our times shimmer with the gleaming ripples that spread out from the fullness of his time.”

This is what Mary gave birth to and laid in the manger—the Life that is life for all the universe, the point in time where all points in time find their center, their heartbeat, their reality.

In one of my favorite Borges stories, “The Aleph”, Borges discovers, under the basement stairs of a dead girlfriend’s house (slated for demolition 😉 a roughly 5 centimeter portal in which you can see everything in the universe, all at once.

Not a bad picture of what Mary birthed and laid in the manger!

Jesus’ body contains the whole universe, recapitulates it, in his flesh. He is the fullness of time breaking our time wide open, so that it glitters like a million little diamonds, fractals reflecting all the shifting shapes of time in delightfully strange, new ways… TIME more wondrous than Adam Smith or Einstein ever could imagine!

The Alpha/Omega is what the shepherds saw. “And they said to one another, ‘let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, which the LORD has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

They were ‘applied’ to the Christ Child—absorbed into him, into his life, his story. Most wonderful of all: there’s nothing to “do”, or “discover”, no “life-application” needed here—no rules to follow. Simply SEEING the LORD’s Christ made them his, absorbed them fully into his time, his world, his beginnings and endings; his joy.

Maybe you’re go: “Well, good for them. But I can’t exactly go back to 4BC Bethlehem and see the Christ-child for myself and be absorbed into the greatest story ever told, now, can I?”

Ah, but you can. You have. You already are…

Luke told you so: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them…”

By Word and Sacrament, you wonder, you hear, you see IT all, as they did—the Aleph, the fullness of time, the Word-made-flesh drawing you into himself, making something wonderful out of you—nothing to do; just… a gift, to receive.

And the world still echoes with the sound of his praise. Merry Christmastime. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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