(Delivered during the New Year’s Eve Service on December 31, 2017.)
Col. 4:5: “Walk in Wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time
Within a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to the year 2017 and will enter the New Year 2018. This coming and going of the years, the end of the old one and the coming in of the new reminds us that we are all caught up in the movement of time—certainly a happy time if you are young and are still to reach the peak of your powers, but probably an anxiety filled time for the elderly as they struggle to still have a great and meaningful, exciting future even in their advanced years.
Perhaps, we can look at the movement of time in two ways, either cyclical or linear. The ancient Greeks believed that time moved in a cyclical way, just like the sun, rising in the east, setting down in the west and repeating the process day by day. The seasons follow each other with some degree of regularity, barring alterations being caused by climate change these days. In the western hemisphere, they have 4 regular seasons: summer is followed by autumn, followed by winter, and winter by spring, and then summer again.
Here in the Philippines, it has become erratic because of climate change. But supposedly we have summer and rainy seasons, or hot and dry seasons. In the cyclical view of time, things merely go round and around, just repeating the same old life cycles, old activities, the same old ideas over and over again. There is no such thing as past, present and future. This rather pessimistic attitude towards time is reflected in the book of Ecclesiastes as the writer says: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccles. 1: 8)
We Christians however have alrready broken this cyclical view of time. We now believe that time moves not in a cyclical way but in a linear manner, beginning with God’s creation moving towards the New Creation, from His giving of his promis to the time of the fulfillment of His promise for the redemption and making new of all creation. From Creation to the New creation. So now, we can say that time is no longer moving in endless cycles. It is now moving towards a promised end! God is doing His work in history to fulfill this promise, and we humans, made in His own image, are called to participate in the work that He is doing.
Most people however, and a lot of them are Christians, still do not quite know how to participate in what God is doing in history and thus they just remain passive. They would just say: it is too big an issue for me, let me just pray, watch and wait.
There are three modes of time: the past, the present, and the future. Each of these modes of time has a role to play in our lives, and it is our attitude to them that can make or break our participation in what God is doing in this world. Whenever we emphasize, only one mode of time, the unity of time is broken and God’s will is violated.
The past because it is no more is generally frowned upon by most people; our culture and our language reveals this disdain of the past. In fashion and gadgets, we look for things modern, up to date, the latest. In relationships, if you say that that man or woman has a past, the imputed meaning is negative and derogatory. Generally, people who have had great success in the past would love to go back to that past, as much as possible rebuild the good old days of the past. But people who had a negative view of the past, with anger and bitterness and even hurt, also cannot move on in the present because of the inability to forgive, accept, or seek forgiveness or offer reconciliation to others, imprisoned by painful memories of the past.
And then, there is the present. The present is always cherished well by people who have power and authority and enjoy great wealth. And we can include those who desperately try all means to keep young, hide their age, so that even if they may be senior citizens already they can still look and act like teen-agers. They do not want to grow old, and seek professional help just to do it like going to Vicky Belo. They want to hold on to the present indefinitely, and if possible, forever.
When you enjoy power you try to freeze the present. Marcos declared martial law when his term as president was about to end in 1972 and so he ruled the country as dictator until 1986 when he was finally forced out of office by the EDSA Uprising! People in power are always tempted to perpetuate themselves—for they were having it so good. The result is brutal suppression and repression of the rights of people to protest and seek redress.
That is why followers of Christ should not just leave the present to the high and the mighty, but should act to do what is right, in the words of the writer of the epistle to the Colossians, in the KJV: “to walk in wisdom…to redeem the time.” This simply means “to take advantage of the present opportunity.” There is more poetic and theological depth in the King James Version for it brings in the dimension of salvation, justice, peace and reconciliation together into which human beings are thrown. “Now is the time for salvation!” (2Cor.6: 2). We are ambassadors of reconciliation. For us, Christians, every moment, is a time for salvation and every moment is a time to work for reconciliation, justice and peace. For we believe that God is acting in every moment in history to fulfill all His redemptive plans for the world.
The third mode of time is the future. No one really knows what the future will bring. But individually, we have our own plans, dreams and ambitions for the future and we try as much as possible to work hard to achieve that. This is the favorite mode of the dreamers, idealists, activists and revolutionaries. They do not like the past, it was a time of colonial enslavement; they also do not want the present where the system remains exploitative and oppressive. They want to change that into something more ideal, something where people can live in peace, harmony, abundance, democracy and freedom.
Wishing, hoping, dreaming for change and even revolution—these are the catchwords for the future. But then, we cannot force the future, as in a revolution. Jesus himself rejected the stand of the nationalist zealots who were proposing an armed uprising against the Roman colonizers. Jesus instead, inaugurated the dawn of a new day by his ministry of preaching on the reality and values of the Kingdom of God, teaching the good news to the poor and bringing healing to the sick and those whose lives were broken. In short, he ministered to the concrete needs of the people. By doing so, he already gave the people a taste of the hoped for future. With Jesus, the God of the future is here and now.
Jesus revealed to the people the concrete presence of God as Immanuel, a God who cares for people especially those who suffer and are oppressed, a God who demonstrated how much he loved and cared for them by allowing his son to suffer and die in their place.
Because of this He went his way to redeem the time and restored its wholeness and unity for us to enjoy. Now we can move on with a beautiful memory of the past, because of the memory of what God has done for us. We can face the challenges of the present empowered by the lessons and truth from the past. We can face the future with much hope and great expectation because the promise of God can now be experienced and enjoyed. The promised future is now accessible to us because of Jesus.
But now, we need to help redeem this time with a more active effort to become peace makers, peacebuilders and be part of organized efforts to bring peace and reconciliation in our divided and conflicted nation and communities. Human abuse of our environment is now affecting us with increasing unpredictability of our weather patterns, continuous increase in the average temperature of the earth and in the intensity of typhoons, melting polar caps, rising ocean levels, decrease in our forest cover, threatening now the already endangered species of animals and the overall food chain in the ocean and on land. We need to be part of the growing movement to redeem our planet, save our seas, save our mountains and forests for the sake of the future.
In this way, we can redeem our time now and ensure the future for our children and grandchildren. Again, let us offer to God whatever we can contribute to help out in redeeming the times that we are in. This can be the least thing we can do as we express our endless thanks and boundless gratitude for the love that has been sustaining us in this life, for the years that has passed and for the year that is about to end, inspite and despite of us, with all our sins and weaknesses. At the end, we can only say, for all that has been, thank you Lord. For all that is yet to come, we say yes O Lord. Amen.