Ordinary Time. That’s what the Church calls these long weeks after Epiphany (the last hurrah of Christmas) and before Lent. The Savior has arrived, the Creator of the whole world is among us, incarnated in flesh and blood and bone…so now what? What are we to make of that space in between? Do we sit back and wait, or is there something deeply compelling and convicting about Ordinary Time, which is really not so “ordinary” at all?
In Luke 2:22-32, we read about Jesus’ presentation at the Temple, which took place forty days after his birth. Deeply faithful, and poor, Jesus’ parents bring him and two small birds to present to the priest. At the temple, they encounter Simeon, who the gospel writer describes as “righteous and devout…waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the promised Messiah.
“Moved by the Spirit, [Simeon] went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.’”
Later in his life and ministry, Jesus would encounter extreme resistance from the religious establishment. This God enfleshed didn’t look like the Savior expected by Israel. Instead of a mighty Messiah who would emancipate the Jewish people from the Roman occupation, Jesus turned out to be a wandering teacher who broke the Law, consorted with rejects on the far margins of society, and disavowed the long-held acceptability of violent retaliation.
We get a glimpse of what the radical life and ministry of Jesus will hold in Mary’s spontaneous song of praise upon her visit to Elizabeth. Her son will be the one who scatters the proud, brings down the powerful from their thrones, lifts up the lowly, fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55). I wonder if she wasn’t quite the naïve farm girl we often portray her to be.
For those of us in the global north, this first Ordinary Time starts in the dead of winter. Days are short, dark, and cold, and it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to let the prophetic imagination hibernate. In the last few years, I have located a profound sense of hope, of surpassing joy, in this song, inspired by Mary’s own hymn of praise more than two thousand years ago. “From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; There are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.”
Nothing we can do will bring about the Kingdom of God. But perhaps one great opportunity of Ordinary Time is to sit with the fantastic reality that God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and showed us how to live in this brand new world…our world…a world into which the Kingdom of God has broken, but has not yet been fully realized. And what does that living look like?
Humility. Lament. Fidelity. Justice. Mercy. Peacemaking. Turning the other cheek. The pursuit of righteousness. Loving our enemies. Relationships before ritual. Giving to everyone who begs from you. And on, and on. Because the world has begun to turn.
Canticle of the Turning
Words by Rory Cooney
My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the one who waits.
You fixed your sight on the servant's plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears,
For the dawn draws near,
And the world is about to turn.
Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.
From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
every tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God's mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror's crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise that holds us bound,
'Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
About the Author
Sarah Withrow King is the author of Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan, 2016) and Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology (Cascade Books, 2016). She spends her days working for Evangelicals for Social Action and CreatureKind, helping Christians put their faith into action. She lives in Eugene with her husband, son, and animal companions and enjoys action movies, black coffee, the daily crossword, and dreaming of her next international journey.