In 1904, Adolph Ochs, the owner and publisher of
The New York Times
, celebrated the beginning of the New Year on the roof of One Times Square. Two years later, the tradition of dropping the famous ball in Times Square began. Today, thousands of people huddle there against the cold to watch the precise moment the New Year begins. At least, on the East coast of the United States, for time is relative.
Different civilizations have calculated time by gazing at the heavens. The ancient Sumerians, living 5,000 years ago in what is present day Iraq, divided their year into 30 months. Their successors, the Babylonians, did the same. Both civilizations used the moon to measure the passing of the seasons. The ancient Egyptians marked the passing of time by the sun. They set up obelisks and watched the ever-moving shadow cast on the ground to tell the division between morning and afternoon. The Mayans of Central America relied not only on the sun and moon, but also on the planet Venus to tell time.
Time itself is a human construct. Only with a material universe does time exist. Where there is only spirit, there is no measurement of movement, there is no time. God himself is outside of time. As the author of a novel stands outside the timeline of the narrative he composes, so the Creator is above, beyond and outside the timeline of history. God is eternal. Every moment of every year of every century is present to him. This is why we pray, “
Glory be the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen
The opening words of Sacred Scripture record the moment time began. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). With the creation of the material universe, the days began, the months followed and the years passed into centuries. In God’s providence, time is moving toward its completion in Christ.
Christ is not an extra, an afterthought to God’s plan of creation. He is the Alpha and the Omega of all time. “Before the world began, God chose us in Christ to be holy and faultless before him in love” (Eph 1:4). Christ is the key to understand even secular history. The world, the theatre of history, is taken up into Christ so that it “might be fashioned anew according to God's design and brought to…fulfillment" (
Gaudium et spes
, n. 2). Christ is the revelation of God’s purpose. He shows us our true destiny to be life with God beyond time.
Despite every distinction that history has used to divide us, in the end, we have the same destiny. Whether powerful or weak, wealthy or poor, healthy or sick, when rejoicing or sad, whether born or waiting to be born, we are made in the image of God revealed to us in Christ. The more we use our time in the New Year to become more like Christ -- humble, compassionate, and obedient to God’s will, the more we respect the dignity of every person -- the stranger among us, the child seeking entrance into the life, the elderly, the dying and even those who would do us harm, the more our time on earth becomes even now a sharing in the eternal life of God.
As Christians, we enter the New Year encouraged by our faith that the eternal Word, the Son of God, entered time by becoming man. Thus, he has made time sacred. As St. Paul tells us, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law ... so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Thus, our new solar year is a gift given by God in the context of the salvation he accomplishes in Christ. Christ’s coming among us brings fullness to human time. His mission and work freights our passing moments with eternity. Our actions have consequences not just for the moment, but forever.