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Just in Time

By Ray Waddle

It is only the middle of January, and already Christmas feels like, well, ancient history.

So much has happened to preoccupy mind and heart – paralyzing blizzards and storms, a feisty new Congress, the terrible carnage in Arizona, followed by national soul-searching abut how to make America a less dangerous place.

A line from W.H. Auden’s long Christmas poem, “For the Time Being,” comes to mind:

Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant.

I feel the bite of that remark, “once again we have sent Him away.” Mere weeks after Dec. 25, I am out of sync with sacred time. Impressive excuses pile up – the 50 inches of snow to dig out, the post-holiday bills and chores to sort through, the stress of the times.

Nevertheless, the Christmas story remains in motion. It carries on long after the Christmas tree is abandoned on the curb. It proceeds despite the latest woeful tumble of headlines. Update: By now the Holy Family has fled to Egypt (for a few days or many months, depending on the tradition) before returning to settle in Nazareth, safe from Herod’s wrath. There, the child grew, says Luke’s Gospel, “filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” The Magi have gone home, too, heading back East with new wonders to tell.

By the time Lent arrives (very late this year – March 9), the drama of Jesus’ life gathers speed again. The focus at church turns to Jerusalem, the passion, finally the Easter morning news of resurrection. Just in time, sacred time seems to return, along with spring buds and April sun.

Yet sacred time never left. The Christmas news of incarnation says God speaks in real time, through human breath, in the sinews and gravity of the everyday.

So Christmas 2010 recedes into the haze of memory. The decorations are stuffed in the basement. New year resolutions are already in ruins. But the Christmas incarnation stretches through the cold dark to touch the moment. It recharges even a burned-out mid-January night, lighting everything from within.

--Columnist Ray Waddle is a religion columnist based in Bethel, Conn., and editor of Reflections, the theological journal of Yale Divinity School. He is also the author of two books published by Upper Room Books.

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