One of the things I used to really struggle with about my childhood church was an understanding that placed God’s redemption mainly in the future and then only for the best.
We view time as linear. But does God? What does it mean for a being who exists outside of time (indeed, even “before” it) to experience it? I can only conclude that a God who has no beginning and no end must see time as something circular.
We certainly don’t. For us time is a line or perhaps even more accurately, an hourglass. I’m 26 years old. I have 26 years in my past. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 60 plus years to come. Those are big bubbles in my hourglass: a large bubble holding the past and a (hopefully) larger bubble holding the future. And what is my present in that hourglass? It’s a space with the smallest of dimensions, the slimmest of openings, a small trickle of lived moments.
|The Nativity & Crucifixion – birth and death|
This moment right now as I type this is the only moment I have. Right now reading this is the only moment you actually possess and move and live. So why does God’s presence come only in the future and then for only a few?
It doesn’t. My advent reflection last week illustrates that the miracle of the Incarnation means seeing God in all things and at all times. It’s the revelation that God is present with creation and therefore always has been and always will be.
Is God’s saving work here and now or in the future with the Second Coming and Christ’s return? It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and!
As Richard Rohr says, God’s saving work and redemption is in the future but you first have to see it here, in the present. He notes that if you can see it here, now, then you can see it there and later. This seems to be part of the mystery of the Eucharist – acknowledge God here before you and then you can see God everywhere. Know it now and you’ll understand it then. Recognize the alpha and you will know the omega. See the Incarnation in this lowly child in a manger and you’ll see the work of the cross. You’ll know that God encompasses all time (“who was and is and is to come”).
The Incarnation and the coming of Christ into the world means that the saving work is accomplished now and in our present. When we read the gospels, we see that Christ is redeeming, healing, and saving long before his death and resurrection. The sick, the disenfranchised, the sinful, all are saved by Christ in the present moment in which they encounter him (and the criterion doesn’t seem to be membership in the right group but merely an openness to God’s saving work).
Christ’s very being is Emmanuel – God with us – which is “good news” and salvation. Even when we feel we can only hope for salvation in some distant future (“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom“), Christ assures us that his saving work is happening now: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 24: 42-3)
Remember the hourglass? It’s wrong. Our lives are not gigantic bubbles containing large pasts and futures but rather infinitesimally small presents. The present is actually the largest part. By far! If we believe God views time as circular because s/he exists outside of it, then God’s experience of time, of us, would be pure presence. Our experience of God is purely in the present too.
This is why Christ says that the Kingdom of God is at hand, i.e. “It’s here!” This is why we pray, “thy kingdom come.” Imagine if we prayed, “thy kingdom come in the future but not right now.” We’d be no better than St. Augustine when he prayed, “Lord grant me chastity and continence but not yet!”
Why does all of this matter? Because it makes the Incarnation more beautiful than we imagined. Because The Kingdom of God isn’t an idyllic future that only comes later while we have to trudge through the mud in this world. There is mud. There is sickness and addiction and poverty and war and all our selfish egos. But thank God salvation is for the here and now in addition to the later. Redemption and healing and grace all fit in that supposedly-small hourglass space constituting the present.
The coming of Christ shows us the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus’ birth gives us hope for a just world now in addition to a just world later. Redemption happens in the present moment through the Son. Advent is the time that this first becomes obvious.