The Business of Time
I have seen the business that God has given to humankind with which to busy themselves.  Everything God has done aptly in its time.  Eternity, too, God has put into the hearts of humankind, without their grasping at all what it is God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing good in it but to be merry and to partake of good things in their lives.
– Ecclesiastes 3:10-12
Here we are, having turned over into 2021.  For many of us the dawning of new year signals the setting aside of what from the previous year we hope to leave behind, and the taking up of newer and healthier practices.  We brim with anticipation at what a new 365-day span of time may bring to us. But our well-intentioned transformations don’t often stick, and little changes.  I wonder if that happens not just because we don’t often handle change well or discover diminishing returns for all our efforts, but also because we fail to perceive time as something in God’s hands.
On what are our feelings and hopes of newness built? 2020 brought for many of us deep sorrow, loss, and anguish related to the pandemic and the muting of life as we have known it.  With vaccines becoming more readily available, there are signs of hope on the horizon, but not much will change from what we have known this last year as we roll into 2021.  Restrictions remain in place, cases continue to rise, and getting back to anything like what we would call “normal” rests at a distance we have yet to discern.
The book of Ecclesiastes, rich in realism, offers a keen observation about the ambiguity of time, that human beings, living the brief spans of their lives, have no control over when seasons of goodness and grief may overcome them.  “There is a time and season for everything,” the writer offers, but we have little to no control over any of it.  Life happens, yes, and sometimes cruelly, but never devoid of God’s presence, though we sometimes fail to perceive God with us.
The writer observes that time is fleeting, and that we live often despairing of what feels like time’s scarcity.  We busy ourselves with business unrelated to what God desires for us, and so there’s not enough time in our lives to do all we want to do, love who we want to love, or be all we aspire to be, we reason.  But perhaps that’s not because something is wrong with time, like us not having enough of it, but rather that something is wrong with how we perceive time.
Ecclesiastes declares that even in our finitude, God has placed eternity within us, despite our inability to perceive and fully appreciate God’s love and activity within time.  This seems like a problem, until the writer concludes there’s nothing good in us despairing what we cannot do, only “to be merry and to partake of good things in their lives.”
Does that mean do what you want because you just have this one life?  Of course not.  I would offer that it means instead that God redeems our time, and indeed all time, so that we can experience its gifts.
We just finished declaring the miracle of the incarnation, that in the flesh of Jesus the Christ, God is with us in life, in death, and in life beyond death.  Jesus, then, is the Lord of time in that he confines himself to our perception of time and its seasons of goodness and grief, all the while being the embodiment of the Living God who dwells outside of time.  It is Jesus’s life lived wholly to God in time by which our time, all our time, is redeemed before God.
Often we despair time.  But our past, present, and future belong to the God who has in Jesus lived our time.  Through Jesus we are freed to “be merry and partake in the good things of life,” even in the midst of sorrow and grief.  In doing this we don’t ignore the bad, but rather recognize that the bad has no power to overwhelm the truth that God is with us in all things.  We can experience joy in the midst of sorrow, life in the midst of death, and still take seriously the ills of our hurting world.
As we give ourselves to this new year, may we not despair time, but rather pray and reflect on how we might decide to live passionately the time we have been given, time that has been redeemed to significance through Jesus Christ who is with us.
Pastor Patrick
Last Published: January 5, 2021 8:22 PM
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