The Invasion of Time By Eternity

Joseph Serwach

What matters and doesn’t? What have we failed to do — and what did we achieve — over the past year? Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

Who have we missed during this year of “new normal?’’ Time played all sorts of tricks with us in 2020 — all our understandings of life, habits, history, routine, and ritual were halted.

As years close, we wonder what we accomplished, what we missed, and what’s next. We wonder where we were one year ago, and where are we now? “Where will be one year from now — and five years from now?’’

What do we need to do when given a chance?

A record 77 percent of Americans tell pollsters the nation has an existential crisis, questioning whether our lives have meaning, purpose, or value.

In the latest annual Gallup survey of mental, emotional, and physical health, self-assessments hit a 20-year low. The only demographic group to see mental health assessments rise over the past year? Americans who attend religious services weekly.

The invasion of time — today and 2,000 years ago

Certain events transcend time, playing out in our hearts and minds over and over, impacting and changing everything from that point forward — whether we choose to think about them or not.

One such transition occurred more than 2,000 years ago. Then, as now, the Star of Bethlehem cast a towering light in the night sky, and everyone from rulers to the lowly soon had an inkling that all the rules were changing.

“Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity,’’ theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar famously wrote.

Joe Sobran argued the Western World — built on the foundations of Christianity, “has turned Christmas into a bland holiday of mere niceness…His bitterest enemies weren’t atheists; they were the most religious men of his age, the Pharisees, who considered His claims blasphemous — as, by their lights, they were.’’

Both the greatest believers and the greatest enemies of Christianity know its power. The great vast, uncertain middle in between, he added, forgets how revolutionary a personal relationship with the Son of God is, changing the meaning of everything.

Most church-goers “tune out’’ when the genealogy of Jesus is read from the Bible at Christmas time because it seems like a list of unfamiliar, hard-to-pronounce names. Still, people who knew those names realized they represented a new relationship between God and the most famous and infamous people in history they knew well.

Rahab, one of the people in that list, was a known prostitute, Bishop Robert Barron explains while Jacob wrestled with God with some of the same questions we ask, and “like them, we’re flawed, compromised, but He chose to become our brother anyway. He chose to be part of our human family.’’

Then and now, Sobran stressed: “he was a threat. He still is. We honor him more by acknowledging his explosive presence than by making him a mere symbol of nice manners. At every step of His ministry, He made enemies and brought His crucifixion closer. People weren’t crucified for being nice.’’

Eternity seems to invade time during the messiest, most difficult moments in history, always choosing the most unlikely writers and actors to live out and share this story. If we think 2020 was a mess, what about the mess Jesus entered into?

How quickly do we move from recalling the glory of His birth to recalling the Feast of the Innocents? One day, you’re hailed as the new king of kings and soon after, the existing Establishment is trying to murder you.

St. Augustine taught that Jesus’s birthplace, that now-famous manger, was designed to be the primary source of food for animals. Christ, Himself becomes our food, our source of spiritual nourishment, and eternal life.

The Greek word for manger means “to eat.” Christ started His earthly life in a feeding place for animals and began His Church at the Last Supper, starting the Eucharist and the priesthood over a dinner table.

“I’m so glad that Jesus was born in a stable. Because my soul is so much like a stable. It is poor and in unsatisfactory condition . . . Yet I believe that if Jesus can be born in a stable, maybe he can also be born in me.” — Dorothy Day.

That first Christmas, Mary, Jesus, and Joseph were awake, changing the world while most of the world around them slept, unaware of what was happening.

We are taught not to conform ourselves to this age but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind, so we may discern the will of God, finding what is good, pleasing, and perfect.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans, 12:2, NIV).

The mess is part of the gift

Life has always been a mess, but we’ve become even more aware of how broken we are in the past year. One of the modern world’s widespread myths — that we no longer need God — has been shattered.

Everything we receive in this life, good and bad, even the messiest challenges we are given are part of our gifts. Only our own sins are something we can truly call our own. The rest of life is a gift, a chance to turn messes into something magnificent, a chance to turn something joyful into something that will matter even more.

And when God gives us a gift, He splits it in two, so that both giver and beneficiary will gain from the experience and know and understand gratitude, which is connected to the gifts of life.

If you take the God out of the picture, all we’re left with is the mess,’’ Father Joe Campbell adds. “Our savior is not in science, money, or politics. It’s in Jesus Christ. The place of our difficulty drives us to rely on God.’’

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