In Christ we live in this world, but already belong to eternity. Christ the Infinite Word of God has entered into time, and taken time up into eternity. We are thus no longer strictly bound to time, and it will soon come to pass that we are no longer bound to time at all.
God chose to enter his creation himself in order to redeem it, which meant that in some way God had to adapt his infinity to particularity: the particularity of this world, this place, this time. So he was born in a particular place, at a particular time.
Thus, by being born in that particular place, Bethlehem, at a particular time, during the fifteenth year of reign of Tiberius Caesar, the incarnate infinity of the infant Jesus lifted up every time into fullness of time, and made every place a place where God meets us.
The liturgies of Christmas reflect this sense of time within timelessness. For example, in the Collect for the Vigil Mass of Christmas, we pray:
O God, who gladden us year by year
as we wait in hope for our redemption,
grant that, just as we joyfully welcome
your Only Begotten Son as our Redeemer,
we may also merit to face him confidently
when he comes again as our Judge.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
In this prayer, though Christ was born some 2,000 years ago, and we who are baptized already belong to Christ, nonetheless we are still waiting "in hope for our redemption."
Though we are joyfully welcoming him as our redeemer, we are yet preparing to confidently face him as our Judge. Those of us who have been participating at Mass for many years tend to let such language come and go without notice. But it really should strike us as quite remarkable.
In our liturgical prayer, we jump back and forth between the past and present, and look forward to the future, in a way that could be dizzying if we were flat-footed literalists. In and through the liturgy, we are no longer living in linear, quotidian time. The liturgy is the bridge between our time and eternity, in which we are brought into the events of salvation not as though they were past, but as they are in the divine eternal present.
In his 1967 article "Maranatha", the French liturgical scholar Bernard Botte explained this by saying that the life of the Christian is "suspended" (Fr. suspendu) between the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, and the coming of Christ at the end of time. There is already a timeless quality to Christian existence, and the Christmas liturgies manifest that timelessness by making the mystery of the Incarnation and birth present to us in sacrament.
To belong to Christ, while we are in this world, is to belong to the realm of already/not yet. We are already redeemed in Christ, but our redemption is not yet complete.
We have already begun the life of eternity, but we have not yet left behind the limitations of time and space. And so it is with Christmas: We already live out the consequences of the Incarnation, but those consequences have not yet fully been manifested. We are made present to the Divine Infant, his mother, and Joseph at the manger.
But we look forward and can prospectively rejoice in the coming of Christ and the consummation of all things at the end of time.
For us, the End of Things should bring no surprises; we have already seen the salvation of God, and know what is to come. Because of and within the liturgy, at Christmas we can cry out "Christ is born! Come, Lord Jesus!"
Comments for "Christ is Born! Come, Eternal Life!"
Peter said (December 25, 2015):
The Mystery of Time is captured in this essay. God bless you and Merry Christmas.
Robert K said (December 24, 2015):
Christianity is not just an abstract faith, but one entailing beneficent worldly action.
Many people participate in projects to help others. This is to be applauded. However, one has to wonder why so few involved in these "good works" do not also expose how the financial system constantly attacks people's freedom and well-being by burdening their lives with artificial debt. In this age of robotic production, a money system designed to benefit all, rather than to fulfil the power mongering ambitions of a few, could make poverty and material insecurity things of the past. It's hard to escape the disturbing conclusion that most charity as practiced in our time actually operates as an integral part of the perpetuation of the monopoly of finance.
Truth doesn't change. Not in centuries or thousands of years. Authenticity is the word for being honest with yourself and others. The power of the Gospels is the biography of a man who lived a completely authentic life. Everybody else in the story were always trying to find ways around it. Just the presence of this entirely authentic man in relation to others made many want to learn from him; others wanted to kill him.
Everybody knows authenticity is elusive for us. Even if we don't lie cheat and steal, everyone is falls short in other ways: we nod our heads when we really disagree. We stay silent when we should speak up.
Not only was Jesus absolutely truthful with himself and others, he was authentic before God, and that's the meaning of 'son of God'. THAT is how the Almighty creator could speak through Jesus
Words falter to explain how the creator of all that is would become a mortal man, like you and me. We know the 'flesh is weak', and even if we believe the soul is immortal, we may think, "God is infinite, but a man is finite. How can a man be God?" They said that two thousand years ago and accused Jesus of blasphemy. Today atheists use the same argument to accuse Christianity of fraud.
But is it so easy to dismiss the thought that we are reflections of our creator? That's the real premise of Christianity: that God created mankind in His image, and 'God so loved the world' that His Word became a man.
Tony B said (December 24, 2015):
You could not have picked a better message for Christmas than today's post. Cuts to the chase, something protestantism dares never to try as it will always fail since it is a protest against real godliness.
I'm happy that you already have a good understanding of what I am fighting to learn in my old age. The mind knows it well enough but real, spiritual, love, the key to eternal life, is still pretty much foreign to me. Too long immersed in a world that is all material, as I have mentioned to you before.
However, I finally realize that the interplay of Christ in our present timeliness as a bridge within us to eternity is a must for humans, the necessary starting point. That's exactly why the devil has done all in his power to cause us to forget and avoid the real world we can't see with our eyes. That's what faith, and the war against it, is all about. But in reality, it is of the understanding heart, not the spiritually uncomprehending head.
Deidre said (December 24, 2015):
I’ve been reading your website for years now and appreciate your work. I was raised Roman Catholic; born again in 1987. If one is born again of the Holy Spirit, there is no need to ‘wait’ on Christ coming; He Is come in the flesh (‘your’ flesh). Yes He will bodily return as stated in Zechariah 13, 14 and in the gospels. True Israel is spiritual (Galatians 4) and is present in the body (temple) of each believer in Christ Jesus.
Catholics, are Jews who ‘go all the way’. All the way with what? With Mystery Babylon’s religion. For any and all reading this, please heed the words of the LORD. “Come out of ‘her’ MY people” (Revelation 18, 2 Cor 6) Christmas is a hot/cold synthesis of a very pagan holiday. No true believer should have anything to do with it, no matter how nostalgic one gets!
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