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One simple word, repeated three times. You knew before reading the
first word of this column that it would somehow touch upon time.

Who among us does not remember the quiet, persistent sound of that
clock in our childhood bedrooms, ticking softly away, as our household
went to sleep around us? The 11:55 freight train, the sound from its
horn streaming on ahead of it, parting the night: three ticks of sound,
two ticks of silence and then over again, the train on its way into the
distance.

Or the city, reluctantly and restlessly tossing and turning before
settling into fitful slumber late into the morning. The windows open on
a warm night, neighbors in the adjacent apartment snoring, or pacing the
floor, a crying infant being comforted.

My dictionary has a column of definitions for “time.” They run the
gamut from philosophical, “a nonspatial continuum in which events occur
in apparently irreversible succession,” to the mundane: “by paying in
installments.” But I wonder — is not more of the truth of life wrapped
up in the latter?

Our lives are lived in installments; we call them days, hours,
minutes and seconds. Tick, tick, tick. … The 86,400 single-second
“ticks” that comprised yesterday were merely an installment
payment we made on that box of dreams we longingly refer to as “our
future.” There it sits on the shelf, behind the counter at the
Shoporama. Sometimes we see it, wrapped in its glittering
packaging, as we hand the clerk the next installment of our lives, and
he writes out our receipt. Our retirement, the day the children graduate
and leave home, that cruise we’ve been meaning to take. … Soon we will
be able to pick it up and handle it, enjoy it, show it off proudly to
our friends. The young clerk smiles and remarks, “Only twelve more
installments until your
retirement is all paid for. Thank you for spending your life at
Shoporama!”

It is said that modern men and women value time above all else.
America has become a service economy: people doing things that other
people don’t want to do, don’t know how to do, or don’t have time to do
– but will pay to have done. Dinner prepared at the burger palace and
eaten in the car on the way home; daycare for lonely children while both
parents pursue their careers as taxpayers; 18-year-old lovers and “it’s
my right abortions” for our 14-year-old daughters
because daddy never had have time to hold her in his arms and talk to
her. Our time is so valuable, and the Shoporama installment payments on
our “layaway tomorrows” must be met.

Who among us has not wondered if time is not God’s cruel joke on the
human race? We bemoan the past; we fret about the future. And yet of God
the psalmist tells us, “For a thousand years in thy sight [are but] as
yesterday when it is past, and [as] a watch in the night” (Psalm 90).

And yet Jesus, who seemed to know a lot about God, focused most often
on the present moment. His biographer, Luke, records that as a
twelve-year-old boy lost in Jerusalem, Jesus was found three days later
by his frantic parents, sitting at the feet of the teachers in the
temple courts, questioning them. “Why were you searching for me?” he
asked Mom and Dad. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Tomorrow would come, but He was occupied with the people around him
today. And so it was throughout Jesus’ ministry: “time,” while it
occasionally referenced the prior or the past, most often described a
specific piece of the here-and-now. In fact, when his followers pressed
him about the future, Jesus told them, “Take ye heed, watch and pray:
for ye know not when the time is” (Mark 13:33).

So here is a great paradox: We who have instantaneous worldwide
communications, the greatest labor-saving devices in the history of the
world, and the atomic clock that measures time down to the decaying
atoms of our universe — we have no time for the people inhabiting the
moment in which we live. Yet the One who predated time and inhabits
eternity came to earth and lived with people in the present. He had no
money, no organization, and no power. He lived only 33 years. He never
worried about tomorrow, and there is no record of him in the Shoporama.
But 2,000 years later, no individual has ever made a greater impact upon
men and women down through history than Jesus Christ. His final word on
time was recorded by the Apostle John: “And he
saith to me, Seal not the words of the prophecy of this book: for the
time is at hand” (Revelation 22:10).

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