The Gift of Time

I don’t know whether it is fitting or not, but on this Christmas Eve, I find myself reading “The Sabbath,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel. It is an old book (first published in 1951), but it is new to me, and I am loving it. This is his opening premise: “In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance power in the worold of space is our main objective.” I had never thought about it this way before, but he is right, of course–and, in my view, the argument that we sacrifice time for power/position/strength/importance in “space” feels more, not less compelling 60 years later.

In Heschel’s view, the antidote to this space-addiction is proper sabbath-keeping, where “the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.” Isn’t that beautiful? Through this lens, then, the sabbath becomes a profound gift, characterized by “joy, holiness, and rest”–sacred time in which to give thanks for relationship with God, with others, and with creation; and to praise the God from whom all these blessings flow.

This is the lens through which I am reflecting on Christmas–not only because today (Saturday) is the Jewish sabbath, but because the birth of Jesus Christ feels to me like the incarnation of the heart of what sabbath-keeping is about, and a visible, tangible sign of how the Christian life is to be oriented, and what life before God should look like.

I think Christians have a lot to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters about time in general, and sabbath-keeping in particular; wisdom that can help us welcome Christ aright. Heschel writes, “The Sabbath comes like a caress, wiping away fear, sorrow, and somber memories. It is already a night when joy begins, when a beautifying surplus of soul visits our mortal bones and lingers on.” May you and your loved ones experience the surplus of joy today that Christ brings, and may your weary bones be vivified and renewed in peace and love. Merry Christmas.

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