For many of us, it is emotionally challenging to move on from those momentous occasions which have gifted us with abundant joy, especially the celebration of Christmas. The warm and joyous presence of family and friends, unfortunately, fades quickly.
Just the other day, I passed a large pile of discarded Christmas trees waiting to be picked up, fodder for the fire or chipper. It brought to mind something we all face every year at this time: How does one come down from the glorious celebration of Christmas? The question, though, is really about the transition we all must make when, in the afterglow, we find ourselves landed squarely in all the drabness of the anticlimax of Christmas.
The poet W.H. Auden captures the essence of such feelings in a section of “For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” He concludes that “the Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.” The Time Being about which he speaks is what resonates with all of us as we carry on from the morning after the night before, and all other mornings after all other nights before. The Time Being is the feeling that overcomes us when ordinary life resumes.
For those who observe the liturgical calendar of their church, following the 12 days of Christmas we enter the Season of Epiphany, in which we make note of how Christ is manifest in the world and in our lives. An early indication that we have made this transition is when we see the empty crèche. The wise men don’t even get settled in the Bethlehem stable before Mary, Joseph, and the Child make their exit. The warmth of the stable has faded, and the cool air of winter now blows cold. All the mystery, the glory, the wonder, the miracle of that first Christmas night, they have all disappeared, and everything appears very ordinary now.
According to Matthew’s Gospel, the Time Being also came with a jolt to the Holy Family. Following the visit of the wise men, Matthew tells of their escape to Egypt in order to avoid the ravages of a troubled and jealous King Herod. So Mary and Joseph and the baby head into the dark, cold night of the Sinai Desert with what few belongings they had.
That’s quite a drastic change of scenery from a few nights before. The Holy Family was lonely now, fatigued and afraid of what lay ahead. They were entertaining the Time Being. Most likely this brought to mind the wanderings of their ancestors in the wild desert wilderness long, long ago. For Mary and Joseph, the promises of God seemed to be in jeopardy. But then, was it not in the wilderness where God was most faithful to His people? It was here that God made a covenant and entered into an intimate personal relationship with them.
We know something of what it is like to live in Sinai for the Time Being. It is doubtful if many of us—if any at all—have heard angelic choirs lately. Most of us have not seen too many stars. Indeed, even a single star hovering above Bethlehem in today’s culture doesn’t stand a chance in the galaxy of twinkling competitors. Some, I venture to say, with ease could charm the convictions out of us.
The Time Being, you see, is the real test of faith. It is easy to believe God when we feel religious and hear angelic choirs. But most of us don’t feel spiritual or much like believing during the Time Being of our lives.
What I am thankful for, though, is how God manages to meet us at just the right time and the right place, and for the right reasons, most intimately in the Time Being. God’s real visitation comes in the ordinariness of human existence, which John’s Gospel makes very personal to us when he says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (1:14). It also serves to prompt us, in all sincerity, to realign our thinking along the lines of assuming a new perspective on what we so often mistake as the ordinary.
The story is told of a stone that lay for centuries in a shallow, limpid brook. People passing by saw only a lump, and moved on. A poor man saw its utilitarian value as something handy to hold his door ajar. But one day a geologist stopped at the poor man’s door and saw something nobody else did. He saw a lump of gold. What precious opportunity lies near you unnoticed, here in the Time Being?
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Kallio has been the Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge since 2000. He studied Christian apologetics at Oriel College, Oxford University, and holds a doctorate in biblical studies and congregational development from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. He is married to Pamela, and they have four grown children and four grandchildren. You may find more information at www.ststephensor.org.