It’s Advent Sunday, and that it is the new year, and so we notice time passing.
Time: what a thoroughly odd thing it is. Is it a thing at all? What is time? We talk about it in all sorts of ways in our lives. We say things like,
- Have you got the time?
- What time is it?
- There is not enough time
- We have all the time in the world
- Time is pressing
- The time has come
- Time’s up
I could go on. I could list dozens of phrases that employ this ‘thing’ we call ‘time’ and each one would not actually, fully, describe what it is. One odd thing I have noticed: the more time you experience, the older we get, the more unusual and the more meaningful it becomes. Younger people, we notice, have a different sense of their own time, certainly not in the sense that we seem to develop as we grow older. It seems to pass quicker each year, we observe. And so, we respond to it differently.
Today’s Gospel reading is all about time. So is the epistle. So is the Old Testament reading. It’s all ‘about time’! (and there’s another phrase… about time…!: what a wonderfully rich and ambiguous phrase: it’s about time!) And so, as we ‘begin’ Advent, let’s pause… and consider what all this time and its passage means for us, and our relationship with God. For, just as God created the matter that we see, God also gave us time. We often speak of using the things God has given us wisely, so why not the time we are given, as well? Time features so deeply within our scripture, and in so many different ways, that we can get very confused about what God means when we are reminded that we need to ‘be ready’ for Christ (Matthew 24:44) , or that ‘it is now the moment for us to wake from sleep’ (Romans 13:11), or that ‘in days to come’ (Isaiah 2:2) certain things will happen. We can get hopelessly confused. And all the more so since Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the new Church year. Immediately we are encouraged to treat Advent as a time to prepare, to reflect and to repent, all things that mix up how we think about time, and about our own lives.
So, lets think about time in two ways, and in doing so, perhaps we can make sense of where we are with God.
First there is the passage of time. The way that some things come before or after other things. There’s a word for it. We can call that chronos. It’s where the idea of a clock comes from, or a chronometer as some people used to call them. We talk of chronology. Chronos is the Greek word for the passage of time: how things are before or after other things. We can speak about being ahead of our time, or being late… All things about how time passes. The bible contains references to the passage of time.
As we now begin, inevitably, to turn towards Christmas, we can begin to worry that there isn’t enough of the chronos kind of time to fit everything in. Chronos is what we worry we will not have enough of. Chronos rules our daily lives. Chronos seems to ebb away from us. Chronos can hide us from God if we use it carelessly.
Then there is the other kind of time, a kind of time that helps us discover God in our lives. It is called kairos. Kairos is about the moment in which we exist, not the passage of time. Kairos and chronos: two ways of thinking about time.
Chronos seems very obvious, very much a part of our lives. It gives us the patterns of the year and the seasons and times of the Church calendar. But kairos is a bit tricky to grapple with. So, let’s try an experiment to see if we can understand kairos better.
Whatever you are doing, pause for a minute. Now.
In that minute, I wonder what you did. You may have just sat there with your head wandering around your world. You may have thought, ‘O, good grief, what on earth is he on about now?’ You might have prayed. Only you and God can know.
This is what I did: In that minute, I recalled the time that elapsed yesterday between me writing the word, ‘Now’ and then coming back, about ten minutes later, to carrying on drafting this sermon. In that time I hung out the washing and made myself a cup of coffee. I was thinking, as I did so, ‘Isn’t it odd how time and memory and the future work together’. I thought about what I would say next in my sermon. (I thought these words that I am writing here.) I listened to the world around me in my garden. I wondered where the ducks that I saw Friday might be. I gave thanks to God for the world: for the things and for the time we have in which to reflect on them all.
Kairos is like that: Kairos is pausing and noticing the moment you are in and not thinking about the passing of time. It is almost the opposite of chronos. Kairos is that feeling of timelessness we can sometimes experience when everything seems right, everything seems good. When everything is held in some kind of special state of suspension. When we are close to God. We might call it a moment of pure Godliness. Kairos is most present, perhaps, when we are engaged in worship, when we pray, when we offer God our lives, when we feel God is with us. Perhaps when you next celebrate the Eucharist there will be a moment when you feel a kairos moment. If you do, notice it. Give thanks for it. And offer it back to God in praise. Both kinds of time — chronos and kairos — are important. Both are part of our lives. Both are God given. We can forget to notice kairos at the expense of chronos, however.
At Advent, time in its purest form is somehow closer to the surface of our lives. The Gospel reading today reminds us that we must be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour (Matthew 24:44), but what does this ‘ready’ mean? Does it mean we should have our bags packed, and sit by the door waiting for the knock? Should we stop everything we do, just in case we miss the chance? I recall when Louise was pregnant, she had a bag packed with those things that she would need when the time arrived. But she didn’t stop everything until ‘it’ happened. No: life has to go on
Similarly, we don’t have to be ‘ready’ so that God can come and capture us. Paul says, ‘Now is the moment to wake from sleep’ (Rom 13:11). I don’t think that means that now is when Christ comes to take us home, but rather that now is the moment that we need to notice Christ is with us. In our lives. Now. Yes, there is a future that Isaiah reminds us of, but as we enter Advent, we need to seek kairos in amongst all the chronos. Kairos is as much about being ready for what might happen as chronos is. Advent is about noticing the meaning of the coming of the son of man, not simply about recalling the time ‘chronologically’ of two thousand years ago when Jesus was born. Kairos is about being ready ‘in the moment’ for when Christ fills you with his love, and not simply about being ready for the second coming. Being ready is not about making plans any more than it is about taking time to pause and reflect. Pray and rejoice that God is with us always.
In the moment.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.