By Robert W. Harris
It is difficult for many today to think of time as sacred. Time is a commodity – we “waste” it, “lose” it, “mark” it, “kill” it, as well as “save” time. The implication is that time is something we humans use, a tool, a thing to be handled, useful for certain purposes. It is hardly a time “set apart” or “specifically distinctive.” And yet, there are ways Christians speak about time, especially in terms of the liturgical year, that consistently remind us of the duality of Chronos (chronological time) and Kairos (fulfilled time). Unlike the civic year, the Christian year does not begin on Jan. 1. The church year begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which normally occurs in late November. To be a Christian is to discern the clear difference between the two. And to celebrate that.
Advent is the four-week preparation for Christmas, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious, makes us look for God in those places we normally ignore. Learning to wait does not come naturally for most of us, where relief is “just a swallow away.” If we do not learn to wait, we end up assuming that one thing is as good for us as another. Advent is the season when the church is most self-conscious about the “not yet” of its redemption, even as it rejoices in the “already” of the Incarnation.
As cultural celebrations of – or worse, manipulations of – Christmas intrude earlier and earlier into the fall, it is easy for the church’s own internal clock to be knocked out of sync, and we Christians are easily seduced away from our task of waiting at this time of year by our culture’s wallowing in sentimentalism and its glorification of material abundance.
Advent thus functions both to orient – to set us about the work of preparation and anticipation, and to disorient – to set us at odds with conventional ways of marking time and to stir up in us awareness of the unfinished character of redemption. Sr. Joan Chittister puts it well in her The Liturgical Year.
“We all want something more. Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life? What is the star you are following now? And where is that star in its present radiance in your life leading you? Is it a place that is really comprehensive enough to equal the breadth of the human soul?”
What time is it? It’s Advent time. Let your waiting enrich your own spiritual development. Advent Blessings to you all.
Robert W. Harris, an assistant professor of religious studies at Mercyhurst North East, earned his Ph.D. in constructive theology from the University of Chicago. He has also been an ordained Lutheran pastor for more than 20 years and has served three parishes.