Cathedrals of Time

I hope you're enjoying the Christmas season. Yes, it's after the New Year, but your Christmas stuff should still be up. Because it's still Christmas! Christmastide lasts from the Feast of the Nativity (December 25) to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). These are the proverbial "Twelve Days of Christmas."

But I expect that most American Christians have already moved on from Christmas, having already gotten Christmas "put away" before the New Year.

As I wrote about last year on this topic, I think the biggest culprit in this truncating of Christmas is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Smack in the middle of Christmastide is this other "holiday." Though it isn't, in fact, a "holy day" at all.

So what we have here is a clashing of times, with liturgical time being trumped by secular time. As I wrote last year:

[The] problem with Christmas ending early due to New Year's Day is that we are allowing secular time to trump liturgical time. Which defeats the whole point of the liturgical calender. Our lives are governed by the clocks of the world--the punchclock, the appointment book, the federal "holidays." The whole point of the liturgical calender is to create a "sanctuary in time," similar to the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. 
To illustrate this, I went on to quote Abraham Heschel's description of how how Jews use the Sabbath to create "holiness in time," that the life of the spirit is less about the geography of place than the topography of time. We shouldn't go to holy places as much as create holy times:
The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept its premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own...

Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded man to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals...

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things in space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
The liturgical calander is the "great cathedral" of the Christian faith. So let's keep the celebration going for a few more days.

As I reminded you last year, it's still Christmas.

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8 thoughts on “Cathedrals of Time”

  1. Richard, have you seen the lovely calendar put out by a church in Vancouver that has a page-per-liturgical season instead of a page-per-month?  Ok, the season after pentecost has 3 pages, but still.  Also the art is spectacular.  Check it out at  I ended up ordering several for friends (inc. a liturgical theologian, who said she'd never seen anything like it and totally loved it!).

  2. My little motley group of performers will be having a "Twelfth Day ofvChristmas" recital the 19th day of Christmas due to scheduling conflicts in December, but of course this is not exactly what you have in mind. Most of us are free church Protestants so I suppose some might think we're making a little progress liturgically speaking.

  3. We put the tree/decorations up on Christmas Eve and leave it until Ephiphany. It started as part practical (many small hands here that love to "see" the tree), part wanting to keep Christ in Christmas and Advent in Advent. The world moves on with or without us.

  4. If time is so important then why was the time of Jesus birth lost?  Internal Biblical evidence and historical evidence indicates he was not born in December at all but either the fall or spring.  Personally, I'm leaning toward fall.  So, even though Christianity was first a Jewish based blief the timing of his birth was not of primary importance.  The circumstances of his birth were considered more important, such as Mary's virginity, birth in Bethleham, the genealogies, etc.  In other words, the writers were more concerned with establishing that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies and really was the messiah.  They were not concerned about whether he was born in December or at another time.  They certainly could have cared less that our modern Christmas season ends with New Years and not a made up epiphany.

    Another little bugaboo of mine.  Why are all those men surrounding an unclean woman who has just given birth and hasn't completed Niddah?  Where is the yalad and other women who would have helped with the birth?  I bet the shepards who came were women, also.  After all, the scriptures tell of several women shepards starting with Rachel.  The male redactors of the scriptures don't even think about these things.

  5. "to turn from the results of creation to the mysteries of creation"--"the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals"... Can you recommend a good place to start reading Heschel? Thanks, Richard, this is very rich.

  6. The quote in the post is from Heschel's book Sabbath. I also like Prophets and God In Search of Man.

  7. Actually, New Year's Day is a holy day... or rather, there's a holy day on January 1st in some traditions. Called either the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus or the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, it takes place on the eighth day of Christmas (January 1st) on the day that Jesus was circumcised and formally named in accordance with Jewish law (Luke 2.21).

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