Advent and Time

Advent and Time

Although I grew up in a liturgical church with the changing seasons (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany into Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and then back to Ordinary Time) and the changing colors (purple, white, green, purple, white, to green again), I thought that these seasons and colors were silly and shallow — my life was run by a different calendar: the school year’s. Since I was a student then, the school calendar was much more practical and it had two excellent holidays: Christmas, when I got all kinds of expensive stuff, and summer, when I got to sleep in.

I was told that I should use my time well in high school so that I could get into a good college; and I was told to use my time well in college so that I could get into a good grad school; and I was told to use my time well in grad school so I could get a well-paying job so I could do … what? I could relax and be free of the worry of money. But that’s what my whole calendar was based around — worrying about money!

Now, over age 50, I begin to see the wisdom of marking the year differently, of remembering the mighty acts of God — the Son of God becoming incarnate (which we celebrate Advent through Epiphany); and Jesus’ trials, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Holy Spirit (which we celebrate Lent through Pentecost). These are twin anchors to reality: God so loved the world that he gave his Son. And I endeavor to live my life in light of that reality rather than living for money for myself, for time just to relax. These anchors help keep me from being swept out into a sea of selfishness.

We should make a pointed observation about Advent: the season of Advent has us rehearse the first coming of Christ, with readings about the Annunciation, and also about Christ’s second coming. No other season has eternity invade our present in quite as sharp a way as this two-pronged approach. Advent asks me if I am ready to receive Jesus the lamb born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger — if I’m humble enough to receive the most humble God ever to be preached, and if I’m also ready to see him return like a lion — if I’m walking in a manner worthy of our returning King.

If our calendar is driven by our needs, then, as one friend wrote to me, we might miss the fact that:

There is a Christ-centered operation underway in history and in this world; God is invading. We are invited to get onboard his train. The King is offering amnesty, life training, and gracious aid to those who want in. Even so, one is coming into his operation… it turns out that the universe doesn’t revolve around me.

During the liturgy, especially at certain moments, I often feel as if I had been “there and then” before. If John Calvin is correct that the celebration of Communion lifts the entire parish up to the Lord, then the “there” is heaven and the “then” is eternity.

One of the key moments when I lose my sense of chronological time — when I am moved out of 11:20 AM Sunday morning and enter into eternity — is in the midst of our Communion prayer as we sing the Sanctus (Latin for Holy):

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

When Isaiah heard these words first in 740 BC as he was serving as a priest in the temple, he glimpsed the ongoing heavenly liturgy, and as we sing these words, we join him and all the saved in worshipping the Lord who both breaks into time and dwells beyond it.

What liturgical churches try to do is aid us in entering into eternity. It might seem like vain repetition or lack of inspiration to repeat some (many!) of the same words every week, but the goal is to bring our minds and hearts into what is really real — the presence of God — and to what lasts forever — the worthiness of God.

The Communion service itself brings us to a moment that is both very specific — that Friday in 30 AD when Jesus struggled in agony and paid the price for our sins on the cross — and also eternal — we worship the lamb who was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, KJV). Our Lord’s Supper liturgy brings us to apprehend Jesus’ gift of himself on the cross which, while both rooted in time and timeless, is presented to us now, that we might believe in him, adore him, and trust him for our salvation, now in this life, and forever in eternity.

This inbreaking of eternity is not limited to liturgical worship; it is present to every heart that believes that Jesus is Lord. We know this because many of us decided in a moment to follow Jesus, and that moment utterly changed our direction in life and opened us up to the eternal God in day-to-day decisions, life, and prayer.

As we pray for wisdom, or blessing, or pour our heart in grief out to the Lord, we are addressing a being “who is high and lifted up” and “inhabits eternity,” and at the same time dwells with him “who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV) — that is, with us — people bound by time, humbled by the circumstances of our present condition.

Without access to eternity, without access to this one beyond time, it seems that we seldom have enough time to do what we want — and we often don’t have enough time to do what we need. Time is a limited resource. It seems to collapse upon us when we need more of it. This running out of time is a judgment — a consequence of our fall away from God. There are thousands of time-related mishaps — ranging from the trivial:

  • embarrassment from being late
  • fines for overdue parking meters

to the profound:

  • rushing into situations without knowledge of the whole truth only to find out later that if we had taken more time and care, we wouldn’t have made things worse
  • trying to tackle problems without being the kind of person God wishes us to be

to the tragic:

  • missing out on friendships that we could have had if we had only recognized the needs of those people closest to us at that time
  • regret over past priorities that were wrong — dead wrong

All of these lesser problems come to a head at the end of our time-bound existence — at death. No more time problems because there is no more time. We will have moved into eternity either with or without the presence and love of God.

In Advent we celebrate the past coming of God the Son who was time bound in every way as we are — yet without sin. He was confined in his mother Mary’s womb for 9 months; he was born into a time-bound culture with its particular prejudices and problems; he hungered, he thirsted, he tired — that is, his body had too little resources for the amount of time it was operating. And yet he was never rushed, and he was never bored. This one who always did the right thing at the right time seemed to have eternity manifesting all around him.

A leper’s skin restored like that of a child, a dead girl getting up again, a woman caught in adultery spared death and given another chance… Jesus told his disciples and those who follow after him — that is, us — that they (that we) would be doing the same things that he did — even greater because their reach (our reach) would spread into every land.

There are hints of eternity breaking in through the kingdom and the church. Here are some ways:

First, healing prayer reverses the ravages of time as our physical body is renewed. We’ve seen cancerous spots disappear, neurological conditions and blood disorders cease, and orthopedic problems get healed.

Second, in repentance we turn around — the arrow of time which would consign a sinner to hell is suspended; the moment of Jesus on the Cross becomes determinative. The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world — the Lamb that intercedes by his blood now and will for all eternity, gives me eternity with God.

Third, there is the possibility of the healing of memories, which is another way to say we can offer forgiveness for past wrongs to others and receive forgiveness for our sins from God.

Christians are always out of step with chronological time — always out of step with the spirit of the times of the world. Advent, the Church Calendar, the liturgy, and prayer beat a different rhythm, chart a different course.

Allen Kannapell is the pastor of His Church Anglican in Livonia, Michigan. His aim is to help people see Jesus in the Scriptures, a desire which motivated his current focus on Isaiah as a particular revelation of Christ. He and his wife Lisa are proud parents of three grown children. When he’s not occupied with family and ministry responsibilities, one of his favorite things to do is write music.

Copyright ©2021, Allen Kannapell

2 Replies to “Advent and Time”

  1. Thank you for this article, I really appreciated it. Please tell your friend, if you can, that the imagery of the train of Christ was especially helpful for me for ways too complicated to explain in a simple comment here. Suffice it to say, it changed the track of my thoughts and I found great encouragement from it, as well as the reflection on what liturgy is meant for and the breaking in of eternity into our time-bound world.

  2. This article was thought provoking and good. As I currently experience physical, mental and emotional suffering, it gave me perspective of my time and place in this circumstance compared to God’s perspective and my eternity with Him. I am encouraged and amazed each Sunday at HCA during the liturgy and Communion as I experience “God with Me”. Thank you.

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