Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-14
If there are young children with you this Christmas I wonder what time you were awoken this morning.
Time is a fascinating subject and it’s something of which we are all very aware: The time it takes to cook a turkey; the countdown of days on the advent calendar; the length of time it takes for an ambulance to arrive; or perhaps the counting of years with the celebration of a significant birthday or anniversary, bringing joy or sadness.
Later today I will be joining some of our Iranian Christian brothers and sisters who are asylum seekers here in Gloucester. They know much about waiting as the weeks and months pass by.
Usually, when we talk about time we are referring to chronology which comes from the Greek word chronos which is about measuring and scheduling. It’s the business of our watches and clocks, diaries and calendars.
As we look back on the past year we are surely aware of all those people in Ukraine and in many other places of suffering and pain across our world who have struggled to live through the passage of time over hours and days, and weeks and months. Yet within it, there will have been a different sort of time – those times of significant happenings. Those moments which have shaped the story and its meaning – moments of death or birth, or points in time of unspeakable horror or joyful liberation.
How often this year have you heard the phrase ‘we are living in difficult times’, or that endless over-used phrase ‘unprecedented times’? That use of the word ‘time’ is about periods of time with a particular feel or significance. Moments in history that shape lives, whether of individuals, communities, nations, or more.
I suspect that many of us will recall exactly where we were at that point in time when we heard of the death of our late Queen Elizabeth. Then there were those extraordinary scenes as people queued for hours of chronological time to attend the lying in state, and then a different sort of time as people paused for that significant moment by the coffin in Westminster Hall.
In those days in September following our late Queen’s death there was a chronological sequence of events, yet holding deep significance regarding the past, present and future, including the proclamation of our King.
As we look back on the past year there have been numerous people whose significant moments in time have been publicly captured – whether it’s been the beginning and ending of a time as Prime Minister; or that moment when the ball went over the net in a football World Cup penalty shootout.
As well as the word chronos, the ancient Greeks had another word for time, and it is the word kairos which describes those moments or events which are opportune or critical – life-changing times.
In our gospel reading we heard those words: ‘…the time came for Mary to deliver her child’ (Luke 2:6).
Yes, a specific time in a specific year over 2000 years ago, yet also a kairos moment. The very first Christmas.
There’s certainly much to say about all that was going on chronologically. For a start, it was a year and time for a census during the time of Emperor Augustus. Then there were those shepherds doing their night-time shift on the hillside around Bethlehem, probably counting down the hours of night as they watched the moon and stars and the changing light. Certainly not expecting to see angels, and certainly not expecting that this particular time was to be a kairos moment.
Because of course, Christmas is not primarily about a date in December which comes at the end of a calendar count-down. Rather it is the celebration of a kairos moment in God’s story of love, liberation, and transformation.
All good stories have a chronological beginning, middle, and end, but they also have their kairos moments. That’s true not only of our favourite novels or fairy-tale stories, but it’s also true of the true story which is God’s story. A story so much bigger than those which fill the pages of our newspapers and our social media streams.
There is indeed a chronological sequence to God’s story which began with a ‘once upon a time’ – or rather ‘In the beginning’. If you have been at a carol service you will have heard those wonderful words from John’s Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God..’, echoing those very first words of the Bible, ‘In the beginning..’.
And God’s story will end with ‘happy ever after’ – or rather as the final book of the Bible puts it amid poetic imagery, ‘Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.’.
In between that beginning and ending comes the first Christmas…that point in time when God chose to come to earth in human form as a tiny vulnerable baby. It was a kairos moment in an ongoing story.
One of the problems with our crib scenes such as the wonderful knitivity up there behind me, is that they can stop the clock at a point in time as we ‘ahh’ and ‘oo’ over the baby. But the truth is that tiny baby grew to be man. There came the time of cruel torture and death by crucifixion. Then three days later came mysterious and glorious resurrection – Further kairos moments in a chronological sequence of events, revealing the love of God stronger than even death itself. Unprecedented times indeed. World-changing, life-changing.
‘The time came for Mary to deliver her child’: Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God with us. God who is love, come to earth.
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,’ wrote Isaiah, one of the prophets hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
I don’t know where you are in the chronological sequence of your life. I don’t know what have been the kairos times in your life – perhaps even this year. Perhaps there have been events and happenings which mean this Christmas feels difficult and painful, or wonderfully joyful; but whatever your story, and whatever shapes our story now as a country, world and planet, God’s story is bigger and longer. God’s story can hold the tears and laughter, the pain and the joy – and all because of that kairos moment of a baby lying in an animal feeding trough – that moment in the middle chapters of God’s amazing and mysterious story.
Perhaps sometimes in our lives, we wish we could go back chronologically in time and rewrite a few lines or even a few chapters, but we cannot undo the past. Yet we can live the present differently and look to the future with hope. And that’s all possible because nothing can undo what God has done in the past. Nothing can undo that first Christmas and all that flowed from it.
Today is a time to open our hands and hearts afresh to God’s overwhelming and unending love and hope … and all because ‘the time came for Mary to deliver her child…’
I wish you a peaceful and hope-filled Christmas. Amen.