rather than a realm in which we abide.
We cannot solve the problem of time
through the conquest of space,
through either pyramids or fame.
We can only solve the problem of time
through sanctification of time.”
- Abraham Heschel, “The Sabbath”,
The Noonday Press, pp. 96 & 101.
From its inception, Christianity has understood that the news of God’s in-breaking kingdom called for odd ways of telling time (for a helpful introduction see “Early Christian Worship” by Paul Bradshaw, The Liturgical Press, pp. 70-93). The purpose of these peculiar rhythms is to sanctify time. To sanctify time is to experience time as holy - as time lived with and for God. In an age that provides instant access to digitized chronological time it is easy to forget the biblical notion of time as the place where God abides. Like the Sabbath itself, the Christian year intends to shape a people who seek God not in the acquisition of things or in a holy place but in a “sanctuary in time” (Heschel, p. 29).
So Advent arrives not as a season to be filled with preparations for Christmas but as an opening into the surprising advent of Christ’s second coming wherever and whenever the kingdom of God breaks in upon us here and now. In Advent Christians begin the new year by living into Jesus’ radical redefinition of the profane time in which we live: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14). It is not only ironic but also somehow appropriate that this season of learning to live each day as one lived in God’s new creation falls in the most hectic of seasons at home and school and work. We fill up the church’s calendar in Advent with more “to do” lists in preparation for Christmas at our peril. The school of discipleship that is congregational life takes as its Advent curriculum the discovery that the crowded time in which we live is holy - “eternity in disguise” (Heschel, p. 101).
The genius of the Christian year at Christmas is its sanctifying of a twelve day celebration of the Incarnation. It is humanly impossible to cram all the festivity warranted by the incredible news that “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14) into a single day. Thankfully we do not need to bemoan the ways in which Christmas has been hijacked by retailers and marketers and entrepreneurs of every sort. On December 26th most everyone around us assumes that Christmas is over. This opens up the twelve days of Christmas for Christian households and congregations to live in the time that is marked by God’s presence: the season of Immanuel - “God with us”.
As our Jewish neighbours mark each day of Hanukkah, imagine Christian congregations and households finding creative ways to live in the season of the Incarnation - perhaps twelve simple meals hosted by twelve different households, or a twelve day Christmas calendar to rival any store bought Advent calendar, or twelve offerings of love by each household in response to God’s great gift of love to the world. If we give this shape to the twelve days of Christmas might our children grow up remembering a counter-cultural childhood marked by our loving determination to keep celebrating Christmas until the twelfth night? And if they are shaped by such a memory of living in time perhaps when they are wizened elders they will know the true meaning of Christmas in their wise hearts and weary bones. Then they will know that it is not only time that has been sanctified by Jesus Christ, but their lives also.
(from "Telling Time" by Edwin Searcy)