Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin this new liturgical year near the beginning of the prophet Isaiah. Here Isaiah speaks of days to come when the “Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills.” He also speaks of “the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem” who will wield “authority over the nations.” When this happens nation “will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war.” In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus speaks of Noah’s Ark. He reminded his followers that in the days before the flood people lived their lives with no idea that it was all going to end. Jesus then said it would be like this “when the Son of Man” comes. He then told them that they should be vigilant and be ready for this all the time.
Happy Advent all! For the next four and half weeks we await Christmas, the commemoration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
But let’s face it: we’re just not good at waiting. Show of hands: how many of us express frustration when we go to Costco for one item (and really just get one item) and there is no express line? Or we go to our corner store for a soda and find ourselves behind someone who is buying a stack of lottery tickets? Or we go to our sandwich shop and realize that had we arrived 30 seconds earlier we wouldn’t be behind the guy who was stuck ordering sandwiches for his entire office?
We even have cliches for this. “Time is money.” “This is a waste of my time.” “I have to wait in line? Don’t you know who I am?” I could go on and on with examples but one thing is true: important people don’t wait, they are waited on.
Now merge this with the fact that Christmas season appears to leave us little room to wait for anything. Crowded shopping malls, this year’s “must have” gift, secret Santas, office pot lucks, Christmas cards, Christmas parties, well, you get the point.
So how are we to wait for something during a time when we wonder how we’ll keep up?
Maybe we need to change the conversation. When we talk about waiting, or for that matter, boredom, we are talking about time. Too much time, not enough time, finding balance, etc.
Perhaps it’s time to look back. The ancient Greeks had two words for time (and yes, I know others will claim other definitions, but hey, it’s my blog). Chronos was “clock time,” the time we all live with, and frankly, it governs us. It determines when we are early, on time, or late. It tells us that a day is 24 hours, a week is 7 days, a month is 28, 29, 30, or 31 days, and 12 months is a year.
But they had another word for time: Kairos. There’s no simple translation for Kairos but most of the time it’s defined as “the right time” or “God’s time” and I think there’s a place in that for us. If we think of Chronos as “our time” and Kairos as “God’s time” we miss what God dreams for us.
In today’s Gospel Jesus talks about Noah’s Ark and how nobody knew it was going to rain (except Noah and his family) and by the time it started raining it was too late to start building a boat. Unfortunately too often modern day followers of Jesus take this as a lesson to lock eyes on the clouds in the hopes of predicting the future. When Jesus spoke of when the Son of Man comes for each of us he spoke about remaining vigilant and too often we see this with anxiety.
But what if we don’t? Instead of looking toward the sky and predicting the hours until the rain comes, can we look around us and see what is timeless? I like to think we can live our lives as a journey toward the mountain of the Lord. If that’s true it doesn’t matter how close we are to that mountain.
We live Advent in the weeks before Christmas but we also live Advent every day of our lives. And if we live every day knowing that one day the Son of Man will arrive we can live, in a sense, not caring when that day is.
I work with people who know that their days are numbered. Hospice patients recognize just how the clock is ticking. Some of them hurriedly check off items in their bucket lists, but most don’t. For them Advent is not a season or a time period but a relationship. It’s a relationship with Jesus, or God, or the Universe, or those we love.
After nearly a lifetime of worrying about so many things they recognize what’s important. They no longer worry about popularity or social status or likes, they no longer worry about job promotions or titles, and they no longer worry about deadlines.
A terminal diagnosis provides great freedom to live in Kairos. But we shouldn’t wait for that diagnosis to live in Kairos. In a little over four weeks we will commemorate something that no other religion has dared to see: God came to us not as a king but as a newborn. And not only a newborn but a child of questionable parentage whose survival depended on his parents’ flight to Egypt.
This newborn can puzzle us, but he can also free us to love one another without fear of being taken advantage of us, or being made fun of, or discriminated against. Living Kairos empowers us to shake off slights, be OK with what other people think of us, and not worry about getting the perfect gift.
A few weeks ago a younger fellow employee spoke to me about a recent decision by my agency that appeared to slight me and my peers. She asked me if I resented it and I told her it would have bothered me when I was 30 but now that I’m pushing 60 it really doesn’t bother me. She walked away a little puzzled.
But I walked away feeling good about this. I know there’s no way this memory would bother me at the end of my life, but I like the fact (and believe it was the Holy Spirit working through me) it doesn’t bother me now.
In the meantime let us enjoy the anticipation of Advent.