By Bruce Schlenke
How do you measure time? I set my watch by the little ‘beep’ sound on the radio station at the top of the hour. I suppose people of old would set their seasons of work by the angle of the sun at solstice and at equinox. If you’re a Londoner, perhaps Big Ben (the clock …) is your day’s measure. Or, if you happen to be a werewolf, then each month’s full moon sets your calendar of appointments.
Very often our sense of time is defined by our birthdays. Date of birth is on practically every form or application we are asked to fill out. We just don’t count our wrinkles every DOB; we more often re-count our years of life. Frank Sinatra revived his career in the mid-1960s with a hit song that rotated through its verses: “When I was 17. . . When I was 21. . . When I was 35, it was a very good year.” Defining birthdays especially mark our youth, when at 16 the driver’s license is attained, at 18 the Vote is granted, and at 21 the I.D. doesn’t have to be fake anymore. Our birthday is a measuring stick for our lives. “Well, I made it through another year” my father-in-law would say every April 29. I suspect these words have come out of your mouth and mine on our birth-specific date. Our birthday is a specific marker of time for us.
But then also there’s this. In our western, Christianized culture, we measure our years by Christmas. It is a huge holiday, elongated on both sides into a season. It’s a mid-year hiatus – semester break, saved-up/left-over vacation days, buying splurges and excesses, experiments in generosity and good will, and reflective reunions for families. We articulate our thoughts about the time of year this way: “It will be ‘baby’s’ first Christmas,” or “We’ve been in this house for ten Christmases now,” or “Next year the grand kids will come here!” or just perhaps “This could be Mom or Dad’s last Christmas with us.” Our conversation around turkey, ham and decorated cookies reflect on “my best Christmas when I was a child” or the time Dad knocked over the Christmas tree (or was that Chevy Chase?). Remember the year the tree lost all its needles? When Johnny came home from Iraq on Christmas Eve? When Grandpa dressed up as Santa Clause? When we drove the stranded family to the bus station? When we. . .?
Hmmm, birthdays and Christmas. . . . There is so much more than setting the time or measuring the years. The Christmas birthday is Jesus – the God Man whose birth-specific date sets the measurement for our lives. His birth divided history into the then and now, the before and after. Jesus’ human, earthly arrival (the Incarnation) measures our years as countless in His embrace. My earthly life began at my first birth and will last 70-plus years. My everlasting life began when I was born anew in Christ Jesus, as a teenager trusting in the “Savior, [who] has been born to [us, who] is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
God has set our lives by Christmas. This life and eternity are measured by the redeeming grace of Jesus, ‘the child born, the son given, the one called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ (see Isaiah 9:6-7). What is the measure of your life? Or rather, Who is?
Philippians 2:5-11 – “Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (RSV)