Christmas and the mystery of time Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

As we come upon Christmas, I’d like to take a moment to put on my old hat from my time as a philosophy professor -- but I’ll try to do it in a way befitting this limited space and broad audience.

I’d like to reflect briefly upon the mystery that is history and time itself.

Experience of time is subjective

Our experience of time is often so subjective that we can’t even begin to get at what “time” really means. What do I mean by subjective?

Little kids going on a five-hour car trip -- they get in the car and after three minutes you get, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” It takes forever in their minds to get there. There is almost no limit to the time it takes.

When you get older (and I’m getting there), time flies unbelievably. Our experience of time can be terribly subjective.

God created time

But for God, who is infinite -- without beginning or end -- time is limited and can be seen in a much different way. Let’s try to take a look at the concept of time as delineated by our understanding of God.

God created time; it’s a creature. Time had a beginning. When God said, “Let there be light!” both time and space necessarily came with it because light cannot simply “be”; it exists and moves across space and time. We talk about light years, because it takes light time (though it goes very fast) to cross a certain space.

Another account of Creation says, “In the Beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And through Him everything that had being came to be . . . In Him was light. Light for the life of humanity . . . (Jn 1:1-4).”

So, God created time and there is a relationship between light and time. Light . . . truth . . . being . . . time.

Creatures, light, and time all have beginnings, primordial beginnings. And God operates within time for the sake of humanity. And God makes interventions that involve time.

Birth of Mary

The first of these that I’d like to examine is the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That Mary was conceived without Original Sin means something in terms of God’s mastery over time. Mary being conceived without sin means that she was already redeemed, pre-redeemed, by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which had obviously yet to happen.

In the Immaculate Conception, God showed an incredible mastery of time. Time means everything to us -- it’s like the air we breathe. Time doesn’t matter much to God, except that it means everything to us, and He loves us.

Everything for God is now, so He can take the merits of the Death and Resurrection and make them retroactive to the Virgin Mary. That was the first major evidence, in the ordinary human realm, of God’s mastery over time.

Jesus born in fullness of time

So we have the beginning of time, we have early evidence for God’s mastery of time, and then we have the Incarnation and Birth of Jesus. And what do we call that in terms of time? The Scriptures say Jesus was born, “in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4).”

God created time in the beginning to be the place where salvation was to be revealed. If you want to put it this way, time, from the very beginning, was “pregnant” with salvation. And so, time came to its fullness in the birth of Jesus because, in the birth of Jesus, salvation and grace appeared.

Grace itself appeared. And as we ponder this tremendous mystery of time, we are able really to ponder the awe of Christmas. Christmas is awesome! That word, awesome, is tossed around so frivolously, but the reality of Christmas as a moment at the center of all time -- the fullness of time -- should truly fill us with awe.

Salvation for all people, in all of time, comes forth. The birth of Jesus is the birth of salvation, appearing in time, and making the time in which it appeared, the fullness of time, because everything that time is about is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

I’m running quickly out of space (limited as I am by space and time!) but we know the rest of the story. In the birth of Jesus, we have the appearance of grace, the appearance of salvation with which time has been pregnant since the very beginning.

The end of ‘ordinary time’

We have the fullness of time. And then of course, we have the Resurrection, which is the end of what we could call “ordinary time” and the beginning of the end of time -- the beginning of the last days.

Why does the Resurrection mark the end of “ordinary” time? In its ordinary nature the passage of time kills people. It’s pregnant with salvation, but because of Original Sin, time is a killer.

But, when the first one is risen from the dead, death’s power to kill is taken away. And when death no longer has the power to kill, we’ve moved into a new kind of time. We’ve moved into the end times, into the “last days.” The end of time can now be seen because of the Resurrection of Christ.

And at our celebration of the Resurrection, the Easter Vigil, what symbol do we use? The first symbol used is light -- the Easter fire and the Easter Candle. The Easter Candle is a symbol of Christ’s mastery of light, and time, and being, through His Incarnation at Christmas and his death and Resurrection.

As we bless the Easter Candle, the priest says, “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, to Him belong all the seasons and all the ages, to Him belongs all glory forever and ever, Amen.” IT’S ALL ABOUT TIME! Jesus Christ is the master of all time -- all seasons and ages -- and to Him belongs all glory for eternity!

This is the glory of Christmas – that all of time and space, all of creation, which from the beginning was “pregnant” with salvation, has been transformed by the coming of the Light of the World, in a tiny child.

Experience outside of time

So let’s not take for granted any of our time during this Christmas Season. Let us recall how this time fits into the mystery of time. And in a particular way, I hope that as we approach the Masses of this Christmas Season, we might recall how the Mass is an opportunity for us to encounter eternity. It should be, for us, an experience outside of time with the saints and angels in heaven.

When we talk about the fullness of time, we are talking in a mysterious way about time such that the invitation in the preface to “lift up your hearts” to heaven, to step outside of time, really means something.

And this kind of approach to the preface of the Mass is a perfect example of what Vatican II meant by active participation. That I’m going to take seriously the mystery of time, the fullness of time, right as I prepare by God’s power to step outside of time.

These are the prayerful thoughts that one ought to have during the preface, and our liturgy should really lead us to that experience of glory, the glory of the Master of all time.

It should help us “lift up our hearts” to heaven, and not trap us in the mundane passions of earth. Full and active participation, contemplative participation, gives a mystical sense of time, and its links with being, light, and truth.

Time is awesome. It is mysterious. It is mystical. It is filled with salvation. It is filled with the Resurrection. In Christ it approaches fulfillment as it presses on towards the end times.

A unique opportunity

Christmas is a unique opportunity and a very special invitation to get caught up in the mysticism of time, so that Christmas changes the way we live our lives, the way we think, and the way we pray, every day!

Christmas must become more than rushing about from here to there, finding the perfect gifts, worrying about this and that food (as hard as that is for me to say), and thinking about when we take the tree down, because Christmas is “over.” Those are all focuses on what we do in time.

Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, to Him belong all the seasons and all the ages. To him belongs all glory forever and ever, Amen!

If we really enter into the mystery of time, that mystery will lead us to the manger in Bethlehem, that mystery will lead us to the foot of the Cross, that mystery will lead us to that empty tomb, that mystery will lead us to the tongues of fire at Pentecost, and that mystery of time will push us forward to the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven where God will be everything for everyone.

May the glory of the Christ child fill your hearts, so that your time, in the Masses of Christmas, with loved ones, and throughout this season might truly be blessed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Jesus Christ is Born, to Him belongs all glory, honor, and praise, now and forever! Amen!