Dakota & Ponoka United Church:
I have a unique calendar that I bought in a small village in Germany—the town of my birth. It is the only souvenir I have of that place. I left there when I was seven months old; my mother and I immigrated to Canada, joining my father in Calgary. How to describe the calendar? It is three concentric wooden circles set on a short piece of wood. The smallest circle has the days of the week on it. The medium circle has the months of the year on it. The largest circle is numbered 1 to 31, for the days of the month. You mark the day by aligning them up.
The circles remind me of an old Joni Mitchell song, The Circle Game. Her lyrics describe time as a circle, where the seasons go round and round. She reflects on new dreams, maybe better dreams before the last revolving year is through. The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one is always opportunity to think about the nature of time and how we use this precious gift.
My calendar doesn’t mark the years, but I’ll never forget a calendar I saw that only marked the years. It is at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. There is one image for each year. Each image captures an important event or aspect of that year. These images are arranged in a spiral pattern, starting in the centre and then circling around and around. The simple pictures are fascinating, telling a story in time. If I remember correctly, the last image is a buffalo. It marks the year the last buffalo died. There are no images after that. It is a stark reminder that with the end of the buffalo, life as they knew it also ended.
Just as we reflect on time, so do the scriptures. A very familiar verse is Ecclesiastes 3:1 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” We turn to this passage for comfort. A less well-known verse refers to “such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)
The Book of Esther is a novella, the only book in the Bible that does not mention God. Esther is a Jewish woman who ends up becoming Queen to the King of the land. She does not reveal her background. Through a series of events a law is enacted to kill all the Jews in the kingdom on a certain day. Esther’s cousin, who has raised her as his own daughter, challenges her to go to the king to beg him on behalf of her people. She responds that no one is allowed to initiate contact with the king and that he has not called for her in a month. Her cousin warns her that she will not be protected from the edict (to annihilate the Jews) because of her position; “For if you keep silence at such a time as this…Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
She fasts for three days and then approaches the king. The story has a happy ending. This tale of overcoming oppression is still celebrated annually, usually in March, with the Jewish holiday called Purim.
What can this story teach us about our use of time? Life is not easy and at some time or other, we will find ourselves in a position where we can make a positive difference. There may be a cost to standing up or speaking out (Esther was in danger of being executed for approaching the king.) But sometimes we are given an opportunity, if only we will take it, to use our abilities, our skills, our position, to overcome injustice, be it small or large. There will always be ‘such a time as this’ that challenges us to be bold. Will we?
Life consists of the routine and predictable things, such as the seasons of the year and the tasks and pleasures associated with each one. Life also has the unexpected, things that need to be responded to in the moment, or within a particular window of opportunity. We need to be alert for that which comes upon us without warning. The quality and depth of our lives is often measured in our responses in such times as these.
As this year circles to a close, I wish you a Happy New Year.