Counting Down The Time
Text: Romans 13:11: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep....”
Our clock starts again today. Our church clock, that is. We have turned over a new leaf, opened up the new calendar, moved on beyond last year.
We are in a new year of grace, even if the secular calendar will still take something like a month or more to catch up with us. So, I suppose, in that sense we are head of our time. Maybe we are a little overeager to put this year behind us, and to get started on a new one that might have more hope and joy in it. After all, as someone has recently said, What do we have to lose?
I have been traveling, and over my time away I met a number of people who are both very creative and think about, and study, the ways in which our creativity leads to the sorts of structures that create businesses and industries.
One of the folks I met is a musician, a composer, and a scholar who thinks about rhythm. That seems pretty simple, until you start thinking about it yourself for a while. We sort of recognize a rhythm instinctively; think about being at a game in a stadium where the sound system gets us to clap in time, or when we all do the wave, which is a kind of visual rhythm.
One of the points this fellow had to make in his talk was the notion that rhythm has a kind of social function; it binds us together somehow, whether for good purposes or bad. You share a common rhythm with someone when you dance. But if you’re a Maori warrior doing a haka, you share a common rhythm with your tribe to intimidate your enemy—kind of like the Jets snapping their fingers in West Side Story.
Exactly because rhythm has that social dimension to it, there is something else involved here—the idea of aligning our own beat with the rhythm of the world around us. The familiar way we say this is to speak of someone who is ahead of her time—which is not always, necessarily, a compliment. It can mean a good idea come too soon to have the impact it might have had. And the only thing worse than being ahead of your moment, of course, is to be behind the times; It means that you have very certainly missed the parade passing you by.
Our way of beginning a new church year is deeply centered in the notion of time. Of course, a calendar keeps time; but our calendar begins with a countdown. We open a new year with a four-week-long countdown called Advent, a season of counting down the weeks to Christmas. This year that time is as long as it can be, because Advent will be as long as it possibly can be; Christmas day won’t be for a whole week after the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
So we have an opportunity for a real countdown; we can make the most of this, because we have
as much time as it is possible to have for our season of preparation.
Throughout Advent these sermons will be reflections on different aspects of time. In this time of preparation we have the chance to be reminded not just of what we are being prepared for, but how we are supposed to live once this child, this great festival, this new reality has come into our lives. We’re being prepared to be voices of warning. We’re being prepared to followers of a different kind of leader. We’re being prepared to be brave, and courageous. We’re being prepared for nothing less than renewing our whole lives.
But at the risk of being too theological, I’ll end where I began—with the idea of rhythm. Because the more I think about it, the more it seems to me one very effective way of understanding just what this moment we are preparing for means.
You might say that in the moment of Christmas God reaches into our lives to such an extent that God tries to match our rhythm—the rhythm of our hearts—so that by being in time with us God can then change our rhythm, change our pace, to one that is closer to the heart of God.
And it is no small thing that God does this for us; because in doing this God enters fully into the limits, and the constraints, and the frustrations of time itself—our time, our existence of beginning and end, young and old, life and death.
For God to do this is to leave what is God’s place—an existence outside time itself, outside those limits—and to enter into our place. It is not just to visit our sphere of existence; it is to make us the point of God’s purpose, and to give us, in turn, a means of entering into God’s timelessness.
God’s place, we’re told in the bible, is a place with out time. As Isaiah says, God “inhabits eternity.” As Frederick Buechner wrote years ago, “God inhabits eternity, but stands with one foot in time. The part of time where God stands most particularly is Christ, and thus in Christ we catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about, what God is all about, and what we ourselves are all about.”
Make the most out of this time of preparation. Whatever the music, whatever the rhythm of this season is for you, take time to listen to how God is joining in it with you. In due time, at the right time, we will celebrate God’s coming among us, sharing this time of our lives. Amen.