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Accomplished and Delivered – 12/23/2012

The King James Version of the bible has many deep flaws as a translation but many beautiful turns as a work of poetry. And there is a passage from it which is no doubt familiar to most of you, as it or pieces of it are read often at this season.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”[i]

A great many things

have been said about these verses, but I want to look at just one of them for the moment. “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Mary’s pregnancy had reached full term. She was ready to give birth; the wait was over. And how much of our time do we spend waiting, anticipating this thing or that thing? Counting down the days until Christmas will arrive, or marking on the calendar the day your son will come home. Living in the dream of when you’ll get that raise at work, meet the right person, or take that vacation, or finally have a home to call your own. Spending minutes, hours, years, with our minds fixed on anywhere but here and now.

There is value in having goals and ambitions, of course, but too much focus on something we expect or hope is coming next can prevent us from experiencing the present. It’s a little bit like Zeno’s paradox, a philosophical problem about movement. In order to get from where I’m standing to the other side of the room, I would first have to go half the distance there. And then half the distance between my new starting point and my original destination, and again and again and again, so, Zeno’s puzzle says, I really shouldn’t ever be able to get anywhere at all. When we become fixated on something we want or expect, we can become almost as paralyzed. Waiting for the days to be accomplished, that our desire should be delivered to us

The story goes that the original answer given to Zeno’s paradox, the first time he posed it, was another philosopher standing up and walking around – thus proving that however interesting the argument was, it couldn’t be right. Similarly, the answer for over-anticipation is action: taking a concrete step in the direction of a dream, or simply into the present moment. But in any case, reaching out to touch what is, rather than obsessing over what will or might be. Right now, the days have just been accomplished, and this hour is now delivered. That is true every instant, every moment, every day. The present is always precious, because it is the place where we live. The past is immutable, the future is unknowable; the now is the most important time there is. We need to live with an awareness of what has gone before, and what may come after but we do that living in the present – not just the high notes and the low notes, but all of it.

In certain Christian denominations, the year is divided into different sections. We’re near the end of Advent now and Christmastide – sometimes called the twelve days of Christmas – is almost here. After that comes a stretch of days called simply “ordinary time”. It lies between major festivals and rites. It is normal, mundane. But however ordinary the time that any of us experience, each moment remains filled with possibility. It has been made possible by a vast procession of centuries that came before, and it will shape the future ahead in ways that can never be fully predicted. Life and the world are constantly being delivered to us. So it is our great task, to treat this eternal succession of deliveries, with the great

care and attention they deserve.

[i] Luke 2:1-7


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