On the Second Sunday of Advent I preached a sermon the subject of which was time, specifically on the minutiae that governs our temporal reality. Like sands in an hour glass, so are the days of our lives.
Now I would like to revisit the subject of time from a different perspective—time travel. This is not so fantastic as it seems. I’m not talking about H G Wells or a radioactive Delorean powered by a flux capacitor going 88 MPH (though that would be a pretty cool ride).
Rather, I would argue that faith in the birth of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow takes us back to our past, teaches how to live well in the present, and hinges our hopes on the future when Christ returns.
Jesus is the Word made flesh existing for all ages and born in time 2,014 years ago today. To have faith in the creating God makes us sharers of his power—we become equipped to embark upon a magical mystery tour of the past, the present, and the future. Thus we dwell with God who has pitched his tent among us.
Scientifically speaking, time travel is possible, but presently we lack the technology. Stephen J. Hawking, the world’s foremost physicist, affirms that time travel will one day be accomplished.
A quadriplegic confined to a wheel chair, Hawking can speak only by using a computer. His physical condition hinders him in space but not in time; in fact, it enables him to dream thrilling scientific theorem.
“If I had a time machine,” he says, “I’d visit Marylyn Monroe in her prime and drop in on Galileo as he turned his telescope to the heavens.”
What is Christmas, if not a remembrance of things past, celebrated in the present and providing hope for the future? The Scriptures proclaim a breathtaking tapestry, a living Word that whispers in our hearts even as the prophets and evangelists preach the ear-splitting truth in time for posterity.
Something definitive has happened in history, Opus Dei, “the work of God.” The miracle of the birth of God is a gift to be accepted by people of good will, universally. Those who have gone before us; ourselves today; and future generations.
These are the facts: Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem into a poor family (cf Lk 2:6-7). Encouraged by an angel the protoevangelist shepherds confirmed this when they stooped to enter the stable. Eyewitnesses, they preached the gospel that Christ the Lord was born. Throughout the ages the Church has never grown tired of singing the refrain of the shepherds.
It goes a long way back, this Story of God. Once upon a time when there was no time the Word was made flesh and lived among us (Jn 1:14a). An accurate rendering of that statement as written in Greek by Saint John is more concrete, literally, “he pitched his tent among us.”
The harmony of the cosmos that could help Professor Hawking get a date with Marylyn Monroe is not an impersonal force, like that of Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Not at all. As transcendent God he is master and commander of space and time though he exists outside these dimensions. There never was a was when God wasn’t.
As a priest, I believe that God created everything out of nothing (that’s a good that a priest should believe that). You don’t need to be Albert Einstein to believe that God turned himself into a human being to live with us, to be closer to his people, and to display the great love he has for us.
We who are willing can obtain nearness to our creator. By refusing him, as many did from the very day he was born until he suffered death on a cross, we deprive ourselves of God’s power, lack the ability to clarify our lives in the past, the present, and the future. We peer only through a dark window.
After all, are we not baptized as priests, prophets, and kings? We belong to a royal family ruled by a Wonder- Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace, who long ago forged his plan that we might know him better. To know him is to love him and to love ourselves and others in return. All you need is love.
I have become the curator of my family’s collection of photo albums. When I look through them, as I often do, I notice how many of the photographs were taken at births of babies, at baptisms, weddings, Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July. These pictures existed before the “selfy.”
I have only lived in Michigan for a little more than a year and the familiar images in the albums reminds me of the past though many of my loved ones have fallen asleep, to use a biblical expression. Memory and imagination enables me to revisit good and bad times, to remind myself of who I am and where I came from and to conjecture who I one day will become. That is how I practice the art and science of time travel.
When you think about it, time can be arbitrary, no? To me, a diocesan priest, time is capricious, because I have no progeny. I could go so far as to say that time is irrelevant to me—especially when I’m preaching.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel tells the shepherds. Verily I say unto you: don’t worry; I have to get to the mall before it closes tonight so that I can start my Christmas shopping. Where does the time go?
The portion of scripture that offers a concise understanding of the Word made flesh, the real-time birth of the savior, is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The writer spoke on the condition of anonymity but his message offers hope for posterity.
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets. In these last days he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made air of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains everything by his great word” (Heb 1:1-6).
The writer considers divine revelation through Christ to be superior to the oracles of the prophets, and the message of the angel to the shepherds. That’s some pretty deep stuff. Not even Doc Brown could dream that up.
Now in another time’s forgotten space a certain writer needed money to pay off his credit card bills that he maxed out on a Christmas past. Charles Dickens penned a short novel, A Christmas Carol, which concerns the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was the wealthiest man in London yet was angry and intense. Every night after work he pried his shoulders from his earlobes with a crowbar. Humbug! he cried.
Then the Lord God sent three spirits to encourage Ebenezer to amend his life. One spirit reminded him of his lonely childhood and how he loved money more than his fiancé. Presently, the second spirit showed him how his actions negatively impacted the lives of others.
But when he saw his name and date—December 25, 1843— on a gravestone, Niagara Falls rained down his cheeks. How blessed he was to be rocketed into the fourth dimension—that which makes time travel possible.
Ebenezer Scrooge, who had many possessions, realized that you never see a U-Haul following a hearse.
The great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote that God is always in the moment. God is the same in 2014 as he is in 1914.
Have you ever heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914? It happened on this night/day one hundred years ago on a battle field in France during the First World War. Trench warfare pitted English and French battalions against the Germans, each side firing at one another and lobbing grenades from forty or fifty yards away.
In between the trenches was the “no-man’s” land, an entanglement of razor wire and littered with dead soldiers rotting in the frozen in the mud.
Isaiah prophesied: “For every boot that trampled in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the flames” (9:4). Well the Allied and Axis forces knew this and did just that to stay warm.
Then a miracle happened.
Germans began to carol. The English and the French applauded. They hoisted a sign: MERRY CHRISTMAS/ JOY NOELLE! The Germans trimmed a Christmas tree. By dawn soldiers on both sides laid down their arms and began to fraternize.
They shared the Christmas packages they received—coffee, wine, chocolate, and cigarettes. A German entertained everyone by juggling. On the battlefield he wasn’t much to look at but he was famous before the war. They struck up a soccer match; the Allied soldiers let the Germans win 4-1.
It was as if, on Christmas God was born in the battlefield during the “war to end all wars,” same as he was in 6 BC and in this church right now. The Prince of Peace pitched his tent in no-man’s land.
On this most holy night/ day, a Savior was born. Wonder- Counselor; God-Hero; Father-Forever; Prince-of-Peace. Salvation is worldwide, universal, beginning with the one who has no beginning or end but who dwells on earth with us. If God could save Ebenezer Scrooge then anybody can be saved.
Back to the original question. Is time travel possible? I think so. It is a matter of perspective. Every step we take in the present carries us further into the future as we leave behind the past.
We can choose the path taken by the shepherds who heeded the message of the angel and sought the newborn king. Some of us aren’t sure which direction to follow. So we hang around, time ill-spent. Worst is to walk away unconvinced that Jesus Christ was born, yesterday, today, and for all time.
We choose what direction we take. Either way, time takes time.