Happy Advent, Dear Working Preachers! A new church year. A new Gospel. A new start.
I have always found it interesting that the new church year begins roughly a month before the new calendar year. Much rides on the turning from December 31 to January 1 — new resolutions, new starts, new beginnings. I suspect there is less consideration given to the move from Pentecost to Advent. But perhaps this is the year to make a change. If we take these liturgical seasons seriously, these seasons of the church that mark our time as believers, they should, on many levels, shape how we view time, how we choose to live time, how we make sense of time.
After all, the Gospel texts designated for this Sunday most certainly signal a change in time. When apocalyptic shows up in biblical writings, you know time has changed, time is changing, and it’s time to pay attention — not to prepare for the end of time, as this genre is so frequently misunderstood, but to expect the revelation of God in our time. And not just God’s arrival, but God’s ongoing presence and God’s certain reign that transforms our time. God’s control of time. God’s directing of time toward all that is good and perfect and true.
A sermon on the first Sunday of Advent can be a reorientation in time and of time toward God’s time. For Mark’s audience, the destruction of the temple was certainly such a moment — a moment that forced time to stand still, or that changed time entirely. All of a sudden, the presence of God who oriented time and shaped time was in jeopardy. What do you do when the worship of God, that which gave meaning to time, is in peril?
Perhaps a variation of this question is necessary for us on this first Sunday in Advent — what will we do when we begin to realize, fully, that the worship of God should be that which gives meaning to time here and now?
To answer this question might make us move through Advent a little differently; we might think of time a little differently, and spend our time a little differently.
Of course, there’s all kinds of advice for how to observe adequately the reason for the season. But such sage-isms miss the point entirely — Advent asks us not to treat this time differently but to live in time differently altogether.
Time is strange, isn’t it? It goes by extraordinarily fast when you want it to take its time or painfully slow when you need it, so very desperately, to move forward as fast as possible. There are moments that seem to suspend time, as if the world itself is circling your own orbit.
We can recall plenty of quotable quotes about time, in which we want to believe but are often not born out in reality: “time heals all wounds;” “all in good time;” “time will tell;” “stand the test of time;” “time is of the essence.” All of which appear to be attempts to make our mark on time or to regulate time to our benefit.
I think this first Sunday of Advent is a reminder that our time is not our own. We like to pretend that it is; that we can manage it efficiently, plan accordingly. That by our sheer determination we can will it to bend to our needs and desires. We strive to turn it back, and for so many reasons. To re-experience time with someone we love. To relive time with someone we’ve lost. To recreate a moment in time we want to remember again or that we wish we had handled differently. We wonder if we can alter time in some way, change the course of time.
The charge to keep awake during this Advent season is not just about waiting and anticipation. It is not just about getting ready or being ready because can you ever be ready for Christ’s coming? Can we ever be ready for God entering into humanity, into our sinfulness and brokenness, into our pain and loss, into our joy, into our love, into our longing?
The answer is no, and Advent will never be long enough. That’s the point. God arrives, regardless of our readiness. God shows up, despite our determination toward manifesting our own destiny. God will come, no matter what kind of stipulations or conditions or provisions we make to persuade God of our timeliness.
Our time is oriented by God’s. time — always has been and always will be. God entered into our time, forever changing it. God lived time with us, forever altering what time really means.
Ultimately, God’s entering into time disrupts time, displaces time, disorients time. Not always comfortably. Not always helpfully. Not always desirably. And never how or when expectable. Why? Because divinity took on mortality, eternity entered temporality, and love eliminated death. This, Dear Working Preachers, is the meaning of Advent time.