Who needs a deadline?

Whether it was averting a fiscal cliff south of the border, or imposing a contract in a labor dispute between Ontario teachers and government at the first of the New Year, or wondering if the Mayans were right about the winter solstice on December 21st, or salvaging an NHL season by first determining a drop-dead date in mid-January …

It seems that things only get done in our world if we have a deadline. Without one, could we make progress and agree on anything? I know some people, myself included, sometimes need a deadline to finish what we need to finish.

What does a deadline achieve? For one, it puts pressure on the situation to force a resolution. Without the weight of pressure and threat of complete breakdown of stability, some would argue that nothing would ever get accomplished.

On the other hand, especially when people are in conflict, some say that pressure of the deadline needs to be endured — getting over the hump, so to speak — in order for cooler heads to prevail and a more relaxed atmosphere in which to make the right decisions. Even if it means a complete breakdown of the system for a time being.

I’ve felt, over the last year has hung the shroud of the proverbial ‘deadline’. Will it come, or will it go? And what will it be like after?

Having a deadline means there must be, at the end of it, a winner and a loser. Deadlines amid conflict mean people will fight so that they will not end up the loser. Dead-line conveys precisely how the word is constructed: There’s a death, and lines are drawn.

Lines that communicate exclusion; that is, not everyone belongs in the winner’s circle, not everyone gets the glory. It presumes a Machiavellian world view where one person’s gain is another person’s loss.

And I wonder how many people are really satisfied at the end of such a process. Even the so-called winners. A pretty negative world-view, I would say.

There’s very little about this culture of the deadline that squares with the Christmas and Epiphany stories from the Bible.

After all, those magi weren’t on a deadline, where they? Think about it — they wandered far from home across a desert following a star. What would have happened if they said, “Let’s just give this until January 11th, or December 21, or December 31 at midnight — and if that star hasn’t stopped by then, let’s go home!”?

What motivated those travelers from the East?

Hope. Expectation. Anticipation. An openness without deadline, destination or schedule in mind. Why?

Because they knew that at the end of it there was going to be nothing but a victory for them. In meeting the Messiah, there was no way in heaven or on earth they or anyone else would lose.

Epiphany means that, even as a child, Jesus is for all people, not just the chosen few. Jesus is for the outsiders. Jesus comes to earth in order to draw people together — magi from the East, Syrians from the north, Egyptians from the south, Romans from the West. All compass points are covered by God’s loving welcome.

Throughout the Old Testament God uses foreigners, outsiders, and women — who are often the least expected and sometimes most unsavory characters to fulfill God’s will: Cyrus of Persia to free the Babylonian captives (Isaiah 45); Queen Esther, a woman, to save God’s people; Naaman the Syrian, favored by God, and his servant girl (2 Kings 5) — are just a few outstanding examples.

Jesus Christ is the very love of God incarnate. And that divine, creative love of God cannot be confined to ethnic or national identity. That love cannot be restricted to only one gender, or any group divided by ‘lines’ of a dispute. That love cannot be claimed only by the powerful, privileged or wealthy.

What the Epiphany stories illustrate is the expansive scope of God’s love. All people are invited and all are included to worship God, to kneel before Christ and to dine at the heavenly banquet.

God doesn’t need a deadline. The Psalmist today expresses this truth: “In his time, may the righteous flourish” (72:7). God’s time expands beyond our limited notions of time. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

All that is to say, is that God will take all the time necessary to reach all of humanity. So that by the consummation of time, his love will embrace and imbue all of creation. That is the positive vision for the church: The light of Christ that has come into the world will shine for all to see and reflect.

Thanks be to God!

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