“It’s About Time”
Psalm 146:5-10 and Romans 13:8-14
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
Third Sunday of Advent
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 146:5-10 — NRSV)
8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is already the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone; the day is near. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us walk decently as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in illicit sex and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:8-14 — NRSV)
In my limited travels around the globe, one thing I’ve learned is that when First-Worlders pack our bags, we tend to stuff our neuroses in with our underwear, toiletries, and anything else we try to keep hidden, but without which we feel lost. When traveling to less-developed nations, one neurosis that creates lots of headache is our addiction to the clock. And I’m not judging. I’ve never met anyone as enslaved to punctuality as me. If I’m supposed to be at someone’s house at 2:00pm, and I’m running late, I’ll risk a speeding ticket to get there on time. If I’m early, I’ll ride two or three miles down the road and back so I don’t knock on the door at, God forbid, 1:57!
Time is much more fluid in cultures that thrive on relationships rather than business deals. In Mexico, I learned that telling folks that something begins at 7pm is like us telling a friend, “We should get together next spring.” The target is wide. And when everyone arrives, whenever that may be, that’s when the game, or the meeting, or the celebration begins.
The ancient Greeks held two understandings of time. First, they recognized chronos, time as determined by the position of the shadow on the sun dial, or the earth in its seasons.
There’s another kind of time, though. In Romans 13, Paul writes, “You know what time it is; how it is already the moment for you to wake from sleep.” The word Paul uses is not chronos but kairos. And kairos refers to a quality of time—a fullness of time, a readiness. That’s what makes Paul’s image of awakening appropriate. As with the threshold between night and day, there’s a continual confluence of past, present, and future. One familiar theological reference to that mystic realm is “the communion of saints.” And as we awaken to kairos, we begin to encounter that communion. The sacraments of the church, and in particular, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, are designed as tangible expressions and experiences of kairoscommunion.
Advent calls us to live in a state of kairos, a state of perpetual awakening to God and God’s realm. Advent prepares us for the timeliness of God taking on flesh and blood, a particular face and personality. And according to Paul, to love is how we prepare. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor,” he says, “therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law.”
Perhaps knowing that many of his readers will need something more concrete than “love your neighbor,” Paul says to “live honorably as in the day.” He clarifies that by contrasting day-time honor to night-time dishonor—the common thread among dishonorable things being a short-sighted and selfish disregard for ourselves, our neighbors, and for the wider Creation. And that’s something we do “in the dark,” that is, some injustice we try either to hide, deny, or attempt to justify as good.
Paul mentions, for instance, drunkenness. And while that can certainly mean just what it sounds like, I think Paul is referring to more than simply drinking too much alcohol. I think he means willfully losing self-control and defiantly labeling it “autonomy.” I do what I want, when I want, because I want, and if you don’t like it, leave.
Advent reminds us that we live in an in-between time. We have one foot in chronos and the other in kairos. When we don’t cherish and care for the unique and immediate chronos realities of who we are in our own physical bodies, how can we cherish and care for the people next to us, or for the earth? Falling short in the call to love, we tend to exploit our bodies and those of others. We’ll use some for superficial pleasures, and others we’ll annihilate for political control. That’s the true nature of “drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness.”
So, kairos may be our eternal home, but we cannot ignore the realities of chronos. And right now, people everywhere are suffering the effects of rampant “drunkenness” because, as often as not, dignity and integrity are taking back seat to whatever means will achieve a desired end. Indeed, our own culture often seems to be knee-crawling drunk on violence, on resentment, on blame, on un-forgiveness.
One year during Advent, Marianne and I were traveling on the interstate when we pulled into a rest stop. As we walked into the restrooms, Travis Tritt was on the radio belting out the final chorus of his big 1991 hit: “Call someone who’ll listen and might give a damn/Maybe one of your sordid affairs/But don’t you come ‘round here handin’ me none of your lies/Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares/Yeah, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.”
The very next song to play on that station was another major hit. And this 1818 hit song ended with this verse: “Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”
What about the juxtaposition of those two songs?
Through God’s incarnation in Jesus, God reveals to us that the Creation is not, as the Greeks thought, some profane purgatory where souls are incarcerated in bodies and have to prove their worth before moving on to higher and holier things. For all of its chronic brokenness, the Creation does more than bear witness to God. It offers a tangible expression of God’s own generous, redeeming Self. The Creation, humankind included, is an ongoing invitation to an organic experience of the Creator. So, the Incarnation is God’s spiritual act of physically kneading kairos into chronos. And that act affirms the fundamental goodness and the eternal holiness of all that God, in love, has made.
While we walk this earth, our purpose is to wake up to “the dawn of redeeming grace,” and to become “someone who cares.” That’s our purpose because that’s how we enter the communion of saints. That’s how we experience union with God.
We need each other for kairos living. None of us can do it alone. Indeed, Paul says that we “owe” it to one another and to all Creation to gather in communities of compassion to do the hard work of living deliberately and visibly as incarnate signs of God’s love, justice, and peace.
During Advent, it is time, through repentance, to wake up from whatever “drunkenness” we’ve been wallowing in, and to renew our commitment to embodying God’s community of grace.