Friday, December 03, 2010

Time for Advent

What is time? Is it something humans have invented or does it exist apart from us?

Astronomers tell us that the earth moves around the sun in a repeating and fixed pattern. The interaction between the sun and the earth give us the seasons which repeat in a regular and predictable fashion. The earth rotates and the sun appears and disappears in a regular and predictable manor, day and night. Ancient peoples, based on what they saw in the sky, possessed a cyclical view of the world.

Thomas Cahill, in his book The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Nan A. Talese,Doubleday:1998) makes the case that the Jews were the first people to break out of this cyclical worldview and think about time and history as linear. Their view of the world gave humanity our future.

Cyclical religion goes nowhere because, within its comprehension, there is
no future as we have come to understand it, only the next revolution of the

Since time is no longer cyclical but one-way and irreversible, personal
history is now possible and an individual life can have value.

(Cahill, 94)

Physicists tell us the universe has a beginning and will have an end. The idea that "time is an arrow" moving in one direction is now how most of us think about time.

Of course our current calendars, while moving forward also acknowledge the cyclical nature of things. The years change, but January comes every year. There is, as far as we know, no one calendar that expresses time more accurately than another. Jews have their calendar, Muslims have theirs, the Chinese have theirs. The secular world and most Christians follow the the Gregorian calendar (which replaced the Julian calendar in the late 1500s)

All this talk about calendars and time, brings us to Advent and the church year.

What is interesting about the church year is that it is not based on the sun or the moon or the seasons.* The church calendar is based on the life of Christ. His birth, his death, his resurrection and his future coming. The liturgical calendar disconnects us from the world's reckonings. Our time is measured, not by the sun nor the moon, nor the dictates of society. Our time finds its orientation and focus in the incarnation and resurrection, events that transcend and disrupt material time and space.

So if you feel, as I often do, somewhat disoriented and at odds with the secular world during Advent take heart. Advent is doing what it is supposed to do. Advent grabs us by the shoulders, spins us us out of secular time and turns us, off balance and a little dizzy, to face the coming era when

He shall judge between the nations,

and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn
war any more (Isaiah 2:4)

...with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

They will not hurt of destroy on all my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:4-9)

A blessed Advent to you all.

* I know that the date of Easter is calculated is based on the lunar cycle but the moon is a tool to fix a date, the event is what is important.

To read more about calendars, see Calendars Thought the Ages.
To read more about Advent and the church year, see here, and here.

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