On the occasion of still needing to buy a new calendar for 2012 (the encroaching speed of January is always a little shocking after the race of December), a thought of Oscar Wilde’s crosses my mind. Wilde thoroughly resented the power of modern calendars to remind us that, though full of activity, “each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event.” He would no doubt be further troubled to know that we are currently in a season the church calendar calls “Ordinary Time.”
There are actually two intervals of Ordinary Time within the Christian church year, unbeknownst to most calendars. The first interval begins after Epiphany (the remembrance of the arrival of the wise men to the birthplace of Jesus) and continues until Lent (the forty days of remembrance leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus). The second interval of Ordinary Time begins at the conclusion of Pentecost (the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit) and continues until Advent (the celebration of the coming of the Christ child). We are currently living within this first interlude of Ordinary Time, having just celebrated the feast day of Epiphany and now waiting for the approach of Lent. But this is hardly the Church’s way of saying the day before us is ordinary.
Far from announcing days that are commonplace or mundane, Ordinary Time is meant to be a season of anticipated living. The term actually comes from the word “ordinal,” which means that it is time “counted” or “numbered.” Though the Church’s festive banners may have come down after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany have ended, the startling realities of life under the banners of a new born King and the presence of a savior have begun. The Church attempts reminds the world to live expectantly between the mystery of the incarnation and the assurance of the unique one within our midst.
Though Jewish feasts and holy days were a major part of the lives of Jesus and his disciples, the same was true for them as it is for the church: the majority of their time together was the time spent between holy days. Yet far from being described as the lull between holidays, the disciples’ “ordinary time” was spent healing and feeding crowds, proclaiming the kingdom, raising the dead, and learning at the feet of Jesus, the Son. More often than not, they were genuinely surprised by the one in their midst, no matter how ordinary the day. In the everyday lives of Christ’s followers today there is a similar expectant quality within each moment, time that is hopefully being shared with the world as an invitation to join them. It is time counted; time that matters.
It is appropriate that the first signs of Jesus’s identity were displayed not to Jerusalem’s religious leaders or in the pious celebrations of a chosen nation. The first bold signs of the startling work of God came to foreigners, people who had to journey a great distance to see what the heavens were revealing. In the form of a great star to foreign astrologers, the God of Israel chose to reveal the birth of Jesus to nations far beyond the religious activities of Jerusalem.
Later revelations of the child’s identity were similarly filled with ordinary time and people. After the hype of Passover had settled in Jerusalem and the last of the festivities were waning, long after the villagers who had traveled far were on their way home, twelve year-old Jesus had stayed behind, though his parents were unaware of it. Three days later they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And “everyone who heard him was amazed” (Luke 2:47). Likewise, the first miracle Jesus performed was not in the temple or as a religious leader but at a wedding as a wedding guest. Quietly and discreetly for a party that was running short on wine, Jesus used the symbols and waters of purification, and he created enough wine to bless the bride and groom and all their guests long after the wedding was finished—a sign of both his coming hour and the coming feast. And once more, ordinary time was marked by the extraordinary.
While the calendar may seem to set us up to live from one major holiday to the next, what if there is far more to expect from the rest of our days? While holy days mark events that dramatically shape both religious and secular worldviews, our ordinary days give us the space to live these events out. In the repetitive rhythm of the church calendar, human hearts are invited to beat expectantly of a greater kingdom. For ordinary time is never ordinary, as God’s presence always involves the unexpected.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.