In the Name...
Happy New Year! Yes, you know what I mean. It's that time of year when the Episcopal Church goes all countercultural and insists that today, the First Sunday of Advent, is the New Year's Day that really counts. The rest of society has followed the lead of the Macy's Parade and quickly moved from the Thanksgiving Turkey to Santa Claus. But, we of the liturgical church will refuse to acknowledge the existence of Christmas any earlier than the evening of December 24th. Until then, we will insist on observing Advent, a season of the church year when we are asked to become very conscious of time itself, particularly the sacredness of time.
Now, we probably don't usually think of time as sacred. If we think about it in the abstract at all, we usually think of it as a commodity, something to be used or wasted; something to be measured to the most precise degree. For most of us, we never have enough of it. Even in Church, the concept of time as a commodity rules our lives. It seems that there is never a good time for a meeting or an event, or even Sunday worship. Time is always precious. Seldom is it sacred.
But, Advent calls us to consider time in a new way. Advent calls us to consider the ways in which we think of time, the ways we use time. Advent calls us to recognize that we do not live on a timeline, but, in a time curve. And that's important. A time curve.
Time began in Eden when Adam and Eve were in a perfect relationship with God and the goal of humanity's journey ever since is to return to that point from where we started. But, like the curviture of the earth, the curve we're on is so extensive that from where we stand at any given point, we don't see a shape. The perspective is flat and straight, going off into endless nowhere. A line.
Today's Scripture lessons, however, deal with the shape of time, particularly an event which the prophets called the great and terrible day of the Lord, an event we usually, but, incorrectly, call "The End of Time".
That's quite a concept, the End of Time, and I've wondered how various newspaper and magazine headlines would read on that day.
The Washington Post: Unnamed Source Reveals Final Plan
USA Today: We're Dead
Money Magazine: 10 Ways You Can Profit From the Apocalypse.
Good Housekeeping: Lose 15 Pounds with the "Armageddon" Diet!
National Enquirer: Elvis Sighted in Galena
We laugh. And that is our best defence, the best way to treat the guy on the street corner holding the placard, "The End Is Nigh". The problem is, it is. Not the end of time itself, but, of what we've been doing with it. It's one of those things on which science and religion are in complete agreement. And it won't be a temporary systems failure. It'll be a complete crash. And that ought to make us think.
Last week, I told the story of a good man who thought he was ready for the Judgment, but, found, in a dream, that he had neglected to do something very important. Today, I want you to imagine that you are in a dream. You're walking along and suddenly; you see a great lion charging at you. You run away, but, then you see a tiger in front of you. You turn another direction and run, but, there is a grizzly bear. You turn again and there is a wolf. Every way you turn there is a ferocious animal coming right at you. How do you escape? The answer is simple: Wake up.
In today’s gospel, Jesus admonishes and encourages his followers to wake up, to remain alert in the spirit. He was about to leave them for an unspecified length of time. He knew the duration of his absence would be a time of trial for their faith. He knew they would be tempted to doze off, and, in their spiritual slumber, confuse the short-term concerns of this world with the ultimate reality of eternity. So he enjoined them to stay awake and watchful and do the things he told them to do for their own good.
Thinking about Jesus' words to his disciples, I was reminded of experiences we all had in school. Do you remember what would happen when the teacher left the room for a few minutes? We all sat very quietly and did our homework. Right? No? Hmmm. Yea, I guess it was a little different. Some kids worked - or tried to - while other kids made paper airplanes while others wandered around between the desks talking to this one, poking that one, and so forth. General chaos ensued. And what would happen when the teacher returned? Things would be straightened out, so to speak. Judgment would come. The end of how we were using the time we were given.
Well, right now the teacher is out of the room and the question that the Gospel poses for us today is quite simply, are we going to do our homework, or are we going to be distracted?
I said earlier that Advent is countercultural. Our culture is built upon distraction and this time of year exemplifies it like no other. The religious season of Advent, with its broad focus on God's plans has become the secular Pre-Christmas Season, narrowly focused on our own. The culture, you see, doesn't want to think about the Day of the Lord, and so it does everything it can to avoid the subject. It has turned a time for quiet meditation into a shop-o-holic roller-coaster ride, twisting, turning, churning our stomachs and spinning our heads. Some of us desperately want to get off, but, we're strapped in at the mercy of powers beyond our control.
And, ironically, that's exactly how our prehistoric ancestors felt at this time of year all those millions of years ago. Helpless. In the northern hemisphere, these are the months when they saw a landscape that was dying. The leaves are mostly gone, the temperature drops, crops die, everything is brown, the dark comes earlier and stays later. The ancient primitive fears of our ancestors at what seemed to them to be the death of the sun stir in the back of our minds. We look for reassurance that life has meaning and will return to normal - that we are not on a timeline heading off into infinite oblivion.
And Advent is where we find the hope that it will. Advent is where we experience the idea of time as sacred and curving, not secular and linear.
So, let's try to spend more of our time this Advent reflecting on the meaning and the shape of time; time as God made it, and not as we reinvent it. The prophets are right. We must be ready. There's a bend in the road up ahead.
In the Name...