“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to a dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
–Macbeth, Act V, Scene v.
One’s weltanschauung is determined by the aperture through which time and history is viewed. Modern secularism, consisting of humanism, relativism, pragmatism, pluralism, statism and neo-Darwinism, each in correlation, perceives history as the consequence of impersonal natural forces acting at random in a blind movement of energy in cyclical fashion. Secularism’s foci is the present world, its focus is the experiential now. Time is devoid of any purposeful design renouncing any symmetry by which sequential events within the individual or the nation are progressing unto a consummation. The enhancement of the self in the existential now is secularism’s raison d’ etre. Each fleeting nanosecond is demanded to bring meaning and fulfillment but the ever passing present is incapable of such grand expectations. The attempt to extract from the momentary what is immutable, stable and enduring is fruitless. It is what one philosopher calls trying to “eternalize time.” The secularist ends up in what Thomas Altizer describes as a “…a total immersion in historical time, and an immersion that is totally isolated from any meaning or reality that might lie beyond it.” (Dialectic of the Sacred, p. 23) Late 20th century cosmopolitan man or woman lives in a calendar prison as constricting and oppressive as the walls and bars that enclose the inmate of any maximum security prison. With each passing hour the reduction of life grows more pronounced and controlling. Having rejected any meaning or reality that might lie outside the constricted moment, man has become time’s prisoner. Within this enslavement, time has inflicted him with a disease from which there is no endemic antidote. “Eater of all things lovely–Time! Upon whose watering lips the world poises a moment (futile, proud, a costly morsel of sweet tears) gesticulates and disappears.” (E. E. Cummings, Puella Mea, p. 20) Modern secularism, having discounted any realm or dimension outside the present world has become the embodiment of myopia.
In the late ’60s, three British astrophysicists, Roger Penrose, George Ellis and Steven Hawking made a discovery that impinges on the prevailing world view of time and history. Expanding on Einstein’s original equations of general relativity, which implied the origin for matter and energy, the three physicists established that matter was not only finite but that time and space also had a beginning and thus was not infinite. “…in real time, the universe has a beginning and an end at singularities that form a boundary to space-time and at which the laws of science break down.” (Steven Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p. 139) The space-time theorem of general relativity has enormous implications, theologically and philosophically. For time is the dimension in which cause and effect phenomena take place. Without time there is no cause and effect. If time had a genesis, concurrent with the origin of the universe, then there must, by necessity, be an antecedent reality or dimension, that existed before time and was its matrix. This dimension would not be subject to time or space in any contingent manner, but would be the determination of such. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross sums up the point of divergence between the measurable and the immeasurable, “If time’s beginning is concurrent with the beginning of the universe, as the space-time theorem says, then the cause of the universe must be some entity operating in a time dimension completely independent of and preexistent to the time dimension of the cosmos. This conclusion is powerfully important to our understanding of who God is and who or what God isn’t. It tells us that the Creator is transcendent, operating beyond the dimensional limits of the universe. It tells us that God is not the universe itself, nor is God contained within the universe. Pantheism and aetheism do not square with the facts..” (The Creator and the Cosmos, p. 76)
“In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
3,500 years before the discovery of the three British scientists, in a succinct and understated declaration, there is set forth the axiom of time and history; time is a creation from a transcendent God. It is the dimension into which the Eternal God would condescend to display His eternal nature to his handiwork, with the ultimate intent to prepare those created in time for eternal communion with Him. In the words of William Blake, time “is the mercy of eternity.” It exists by God’s appointing to make eternity accessible to humanity, for the God of eternity pervades time. Time being a consequence of the Divine fiat presents no boundary, constraint or limitation to God. He is revealed as a God of infinitude; without boundary, measureless and unlimitable. Not sequestered by time or the events therein, God can operate simultaneously in myriad dimensions. One of the prominent names in the Old Testament for God’s relation to time and history is “First and Last” (Heb. aleph and tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12). The name indicates that God encircles, boundaries and encloses all of history. He initiates it, sums it up and is present in all its movements. God is controlling every nanosecond, directing it along to its consummate goal. The title pictures God as standing at time’s birth and omega point simultaneously and within every intervening second saturating it with His providential preservation, direction and redemptive grace. God has enclosed time with His abiding presence. Solomon describes the theistic perspective of time, “He has made everything beautiful in its time…” (Eccles. 3:11). Solomon utilizes a Hebrew word frequently used in the Old Testament for the contour of a beautiful woman. He sees in history a symmetry, a harmony, a contour of interrelatedness and design, not a discordant morass heading mindlessly toward a cul-de-sac. The historic Christian view of time has always embraced early Judaism’s perspective of God’s sovereignty over history. “History in the Jewish conception is not a chaos leading to nowhere. But an overall progression with a definite goal which it derives from God who is above history, and who rules and controls history. For God in Jewish teaching is not only the Lord of nature, but also the Lord of history. History is the arena wherein God’s activity on behalf of man is made manifest, and in which, and through which, His eternal purpose is being fulfilled.” (Isidore Epstein, The Faith of Judaism, p. 258)
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
C. S. Lewis writes that among times “…there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward.” (Perelandra, p. 62). At the kairos point of history, when the religious, political, economic and social pieces were all in place, the time was ripe. Like a vessel full to the brim, history was at its fullest measure. Under the control of God every ordained event in preparation for this climactic advent had transpired. The prophets of Israel who had described specific, soteric kairos periods to come to Israel and the world, had collectively reached an apex of fulfillment. The anticipatory strand of history had reached the summit. In a backwater province in the Roman empire in a rustic village, aesthetically offensive, that spoke of the ignoble status of the lineage of David, Eternity would intersect time. Time’s conquest would be accomplished by one who laid in an ox trough. The ancient cry for God to rend the Heavens and come down (Isa. 64:1) would be answered in a manner far different than Sinai. The God of Eternity would display the essence of His love for the world; unreserved, self-emptying, self-sacrificial.
“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you one will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child…” (Micah 5:2-3)
For 600 years the House of David had been deprived of royal dominion, declining into the lowliness of its origin, into the obscurity of private life. Bethlehem spoke of humility and degradation without the least vestige of royalty. Nothing of David’s greatness would attend to the present descendants of his line. A young virgin was the divinely chosen descendant to bring forth the scion of David, his greater son, whose coming would inaugurate the day of salvation for Israel and the Gentile world. As a tender sprout, He would come forth from the stump of the felled tree of the House of David (Isa. 11:1, 53:2, II Sam. 23:5, Jer. 23:16, Zech. 6:12). The ancient village where David was born and anointed to become King of Israel would once again rise to prominence.
“And she shall bear a son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21). Before the birth of this child he was divinely designated to be named Jesus, indicating his soteric nature and work among men. The name “Jesus” is freighted with the implication of the deity of its bearer. For it is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehousa (“Jehovah is salvation”). Every First Century Jew understood that only God could bring rescue and forgiveness from sin (Isa. 43:11, 45:22, Ps. 67:2). Salvation was exclusively a work of God alone. In Pesikta Kahana there is a characterization of the Messiah’s speech, “Confidence and restfulness are in His words. His tongue gives pardon and forgiveness…” (Pes. K. 149a). The Son of God left eternity to become the Gaal, i.e., Kinsman Redeemer of mankind. One who is related to those in need of redemption and thus qualified to present the redemptive price for their complete salvation.
2,000 years removed from Bethlehem’s advent, Christmas for millions is just an opportunity for a cultural celebration without a vestige of redemptive adoration. Yet the enduring significance of the incarnation confronts us still. Time’s prisoner has been offered liberation by the Father of the Ages. A portal from earth to eternity has been opened and the passageway secured by the Divine Visitor of Bethlehem. His voice still reverberates, “Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” The fiat nature of that voice can bring peace by a whisper. Though it appears that most are deaf to this soteric sound, a consummate day that He and the prophets foretold, as certain as His first advent, is on the horizon. He will speak then, not as the Kinsman Redeemer from Bethlehem, but as the Kurios of the cosmos.
“The Word of the Father, by whom all the cycles of time were made, entered time itself when he was made flesh in Bethlehem. With the Father the Word precedes all the time, but by a human mother the Word chose a particular day to appear in time. The mother of men became a man. The ruler of the stars was born beneath the stars. The power that brings food from the earth sucked at the breast, and then ate bread. The One who is the Way to salvation walked along dusty roads. The eternal judge of all mankind was condemned by a mortal judge. The true vine wore a crown of thorns. The foundation of the earth itself was nailed to a tree. The source of all health was wounded in the side. The source of all joy suffered and died. He who was pure took upon himself the whole punishment of sin, that those who are saved, might go free. Through Christ, time itself is made sacred, the stars, the plants, the trees and the earth made holy-and mankind is saved.”-Augustine, The Trinity