Advent: Holiday Time and the Fullness of Time

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CHICAGO, IL (November 28, 2008) – John Weborg is Professor Emeritus of Theology at North Park Theological Seminary and a longtime columnist for The Covenant Companion. Each Friday during Advent, we will share one of his columns that originally appeared in the magazine. Today’s installment first appeared in December 2000.

By Dr. John Weborg

Holiday time and Christmas time are related, but not identical. While holiday time and Christmas time occur at the same time on the calendar (as observed by Christians and with some communality in the culture in general) and in people’s schedules, they are not the same.

The article “Surviving Holiday Hell” in the November/December 1998 issue of Psychology Today cites several voices that cannot agree on what time we are celebrating. One example. Frank Pittman says that “Christmas is make-up time.” The delusion he refers to is “the belief that we can do a year’s worth of work on our entire set of relationships just in a few days – holiday time.” He is candid in admitting his painful lesson: trying to do everything, complicated by the other pressures of the season, it backfired in every way. Make-up time replaced holiday time, which replaced Christmas time. Make-up time ended up leaving more to make up and no one had a holiday.

“Gift giving is a redemptive act, not a competitive act among givers.”

For some it is Santa time, but not St. Nicholas time. Does our culture know the story of St. Nicholas? We know that he was a fourth century bishop of Myra on the southwest corner of what is now Turkey, and that St. Nicolas Day is celebrated December 6. One story of his life tells of gifts given to a poor family, rescuing three daughters from a life of prostitution. If the story is true, it beings out the redeeming character of gifts – that is, gifts make a material difference in the circumstances of the recipient. Gift giving is a redemptive act, not a competitive act among givers.

For many children it is Rudolf time, immortalized by icon and song. But is the storyline truly faced? Contrary to the hospitality of Mary and Joseph to the shepherds and Magi and the generosity of St. Nicholas, the company of reindeer was exclusionary. They perpetrated an evil whose effects are seldom fully escaped: ridicule and exclusion. Holiday time is when ridiculed and excluded persons yearn like Rudolph for a reversal of fortune. Not only was he received into the pack, but he was made leader of the pack? It was a reversal worthy of those described in Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2) and Mary’s song (Luke 1). In the kingdom, the least become the indispensable. It was the fullness of time for Rudolph.

So what time is it? Is holiday time and make-up time the same as what the Bible calls the fullness of time? Like this: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as children” (Galatians 4:6). Or like this: “(God) set forth . . . Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9b-10).

God did not “take time” to be with us momentarily. If so, from whom did God take time away in order to give it to us? No, God’s time for us is not rationed and parceled out. God came in the person of the word incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth and remains with us in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Christmas is not to be reduced to make-up time, but is the celebration of time made full by a presence never to be withdrawn.

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