We dogged Judeo-Christians like to think of ourselves as linear. IN THE BEGINNING! AND THEN THERE WAS LIGHT! AND ON THE THIRD DAY! Even if we don’t take all that calendar-progression stuff literally (seriously, how long IS one of God’s days, anyway?), the Bible still piles on the highlights from one sequential event to another. So when we read about alternate, cyclical conceptions of time in other cultures and religions, we tend to think: Oooh-ee, wooh-eee, now THAT’S exotic! Just imagine! Time looping around for a re-do!
And then, lo and behold, Christians celebrate Christmas same time each year. Over and over, an unmarried teenager gets pregnant in the Middle East. Over and over, her boyfriend marries her anyway (a true miracle), and over and over, the impoverished, homeless, faithful couple wind up giving birth in a barn. And that’s not all that happens. When I attend midnight Mass, I can bank not only on Jesus’ birth but his entire Passion, too: the prayers that lead to the Eucharist mark his suffering, death and resurrection. Every Eucharist is a little Easter unto itself. And so, in the course of a single Christmas Mass, Jesus is born, eats his last meal with his friends, dies on the cross and rises again. That’s quite the life cycle.
Sometimes, sitting in Mass, I fall into a moment that feels like a snatch of timelessness, not a turn of a wheel, not a ticking second, but something illumined and profound. Believing, as I do, that God joined us and healed us in our brokenness the only way God could — by walking among us, drinking wine at our weddings and scraping his sandals in the dirt next to us until he bled and died — then why wouldn’t I also believe that he’s still here? In this very moment, and the next one, and the next? We’re still broken, right? We’re still walking. It’s not like we’ve perfected this mortal-living shtick of ours. We plod ahead with our blinders on, trying to see too far ahead and not pausing to feel the present. Why wouldn’t the God who’s always back for more just plod away beside us?
So Mary’s about to give birth. Jesus is about to arrive, howling for milk and warmth and love, finding it in the arms of his parents. He lives. He dies. He lives again. Amen, and Merry Christmas.