https://www.wikiart.org/en/nicholas-roerich/waiting

Advent 1B: Time-Anxiety

Readings

  • Isaiah 64:1-9
  • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
  • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
  • Mark 13:24-37
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translation, by clicking this link.

Sermon

Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the end of everything is coming.

What an odd way to start the beginning of a new liturgical year.

But there is a small part of me that thinks this is so typical of our current society: here we are, at the beginning of the Advent season, and we’re already talking about the end.

I saw a newspaper cartoon the other day that had one youth attempting to explain to the other the reason for our weekly Advent countdown with candles was to help us prepare for Christmas.  The other youth responded by asking: So we know how many days left of Christmas shopping?

A groaner of a punchline, perhaps, but certainly on the nose as we look around and see all the Christmas preparations exploding in colour and light around us through home windows, storefronts and malls, in the music coming across the airways, and on the streets of town.

An interesting article was making its rounds almost immediately after Remembrance Day this year: exposure to Christmas music, while proven to lift moods and increase spending, is also likely to exhaust a person through mental drain[1].  There is increased understanding that the certainty of ‘Christmas Creep’ results in many people being fed up with Christmas well before the day has even arrived.

I could share a sermon with you all about how the season of Advent can help mitigate this reality or why we even mark Advent at all, and I’m sure it would be a riveting experience for everyone, but I was really captivated by a particular part of today’s gospel text.

Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the end of everything is coming.

I like the Gospel of Mark for a couple of reasons, but the one that comes through today’s verses is probably my favourite.  The Gospel of Mark is very concerned about time.  I am fond of telling people that everything happens fast for Mark.  There are a lot of “immediately’s” liberally sprinkled throughout this Gospel book.

In general, I like time.

The most memorable gift I have ever received is tied both to my Christmas memories and to time.  The funny thing is, I’m not even sure that it was a Christmas gift.  Anyway, the gift of such remembrance was my very own wristwatch.

Royal blue and bright yellow.  I remember there being a little duck profile on one of the hands.  I like to watch it move around the watch face.  My watch was analog – because my father thought it was very important to learn to tell time rather than be told time by a digital face.

I remember being very happy about that watch.  I learned to read it with pride, and felt rather grownup to have a watch.

Time has always captured my attention.  The concepts about time are fascinating.

In an article about worship this week, Karoline Lewis summed up time this way:

“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.”[2]

When we take a moment to learn about time from scripture, we learn that there are two kinds of time.  The ancient Greek named them: Chronos and Kairos.

The first is the one we are most familiar with.  It measure the passage of time – clock time – seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc.  It is quantitative time.

The second is qualitative time.  It measures moments.  And it’s what I tend to nickname “God time.”

Not an amount of time spent with God, but one of those perfect moments when everything in the cosmos seems to strike one of those chords of such harmony that the hairs on the back of your neck stand straight up and something truly important happens.

That’s just a little bit different than marking the passage of time.

In this particular season of Advent, with this particular reading from Mark, I wonder how many people bristled, like I did, with a small amount of time-anxiety.  The charge to: “Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the end of everything is coming” rattles something within me.  I think it’s the same thing that vibrates with worry about all the things I have to get done.

Chronos – the figurehead of to-do lists.

But, I also wonder how many people hear this particular reading from Mark with Kairos ears.

Last week, I touched on readings about end times.  How many there are and who they were written for… and today we find ourselves within another Jesus speech about the end of time and how little we know about what it will look like.

I would emphasize that the point about today’s reading isn’t so much about constant vigilance, or even keeping oneself busy with the tasks of Christendom while waiting for God to come again.

I would say that today’s reading is instead a signpost for a time change much like Advent is a signpost for a time change.

This call to “Watch out! Stay alert!” at the beginning of our Advent season calls attention to our tendency to live from a Chronos perspective – waiting and anticipating, getting ready and being ready for the arrival of Christ. Either as a vulnerable and small child at Christmastime or as a regal and benevolent leader of all at the end of all time.

I thought it was important that Karoline asked the following further into her article this week:

“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.”[3]

But, I believe, God’s time is always directed to all that is good and perfect and true.[4]

My hope this Advent season isn’t that you would slow down the so-called ‘Christmas Creep,’ or that you would attempt to make some space for the waiting and anticipating part of this season, or that you find a way to combat any time-anxiety that you will feel in the next few weeks.  I think those things are simple realities of living in our Chronos-centric world.

My hope is that Advent would become a pivot-point of perspective for you.

In the midst of your waiting and anticipating, may you live for Kairos moments; may you come to expect to find God’s time in your world.  Not just a one time thing, like the arrival of the human embodiment of the Word of God, an incredible and important mark on the historic chronology of humanity.  But God’s ongoing presence – multiple harmonious moments of time lifted out of the ordinary rhythms of life.

And may each of those moments be sublime.

Let us pray:
Holy One, as we enter into this season of Advent, prepare us for your arrival.  Help us to make a shift from Chronos to Kairos that we would seek to experience your presence with us in all that we do.  Gift us with delightful moments of your hope, peace, love, and joy in the coming weeks that we would awaken to all the ways your vision calls us to what is good and perfect and true.  This we pray in the name of the one who added a precious mark to time eternal, your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


Sermon Inspirations

  1. D Mark Davis. “Images of Hope, Suffering, and VigilanceLeft Behind and Loving It
  2. Janet H. Hunt. “Raking in the DarkDancing with the Word
  3. Karoline Lewis. “Advent Time” Dear Working Preacher: November 26, 2017.  org
  4. David Lose. “Advent 1B:Preaching a Participatory Advent…in the Meantime
  5. McKinley Valentine. “Chronos & Kairoshttp://www.mckinleyvalentine.com

This week’s image is entitled, “Waiting,” created by Nicholas Roerich, in 1917.  The image is public domain, but is provided only for your interest.  Please do not copy the image from this blog.  You can find out more about the painting here, and the artist here.  The image has been modified for the purposes of this blog.


[1] Chloe Tejada. “Christmas Music Can Actually be Mentally DrainingHuffPost
[2] Karoline Lewis.  “Advent Time” Dear Working Preacher: November 26, 2017.  WorkingPreacher.org
[3] Karoline Lewis.  “Advent Time
[4] Karoline Lewis.  “Advent Time

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