Rorate Caeli

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent: Advent is not a time for killing time

From the Epistle:  “Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11-14)

“You know what hour it is”, says St. Paul.  You know the time in which you are living.  That is quite a statement.  What is the time in which we are living?  2020 Anno Domini, or the Common Era?  How is this time in which we are living defined? Well, that definition depends on your perspective, and the perspective on this First Sunday in Advent is a liturgical perspective.  The time is Advent.  This is the time of waiting.  We all know what waiting is like.  We wait for so many things in our lives, and most of this waiting time is killing time, killing time to get onto the next thing.  We wait in line at the bank. We wait in line at the infamous Motor Vehicles Office.  We wait in line at the doctor’s office, and we kill that time by looking at empty headed magazines that fill the time, that kill the time.  We wait in line for a ticket to the latest must go to concert, grasping the ticket when we get it, something to look forward to.  Killing time in order to get to the next thing in our lives.  

But the past eight months have been different.  We have not been killing time until the next event that will satisfy us.  Rather since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic we have been marking time, part of that marking full of anxiety and dread, living in a situation over which we have little control, some control, but yet in the end no control.  The images by now have become familiar:  the crowded hospitals, the announcements of the increasing number of cases and more piercingly,  the number of deaths.  For many people this time of waiting has been punctuated by the suddenness of death, death of a loved one, and often deprived of that farewell, that clutch of the hand, the words, I love you.  For most of us we live in a time in which those basic human gestures that convey love and friendship, the hugs, the laughter, the tears, the sharing of food, and for Catholics the deprivation in many cases of the center of our lives of faith the worship of God in the Holy Mas:  the very basic human acts that convey and strengthen relationships between one another have become clouded not only by masks that are worn to help prevent spread of the virus but also most importantly by the constant threat of a force that threatens our lives and the reality of our relationships.  

The irony is that we have too much time right now. This is not a time to kill time. This is a time in which we fear that time will kill us.  But there is hope in this present darkness, this time of disorientation, this time of unease that is not general but specific.  And the ground of our hope is a vaccine, that science will come to our rescue and that once we have the vaccine against the dreaded virus, all will be well, and we can forget what we have been through and live normal lives, normal lives of waiting and killing time.  Nothing can be done. We just have to wait it out with anxiety or with stoic calm.  The result has nothing in the end to do with us and our waiting.  The triumph over the virus, the end of the constant gnawing fear, will come.  What we have waited for will come, the vaccine, then  we will go on as before.

But Advent time is radically different. For we are waiting for what has already come and what will come.  There is not a question here of killing time, for time has already been transformed from something to get through with at least pain as possible in a linear progression to something that radiates from a central point and which propels us to the end of the radius that is the center of the circle.  For when God entered time two thousand years ago, time was transformed.  There is no longer any linear secular time. That is an illusion. That is time to kill. When eternity entered time in the person of Jesus Christ, he becomes the center of time, and all time before and after reflects that center and is defined by that center that radiates out like the light of the star of Bethlehem.  In Christ, time has been sanctified, and Advent is that time of waiting for what has happened on the trajectory that will mark the end of time, the fulfillment of time, what Jesus describes in today’s Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent as the end of time, the judgment day, the day of reckoning, of a literal counting up of the seconds of eternity, and woe be to that person who has killed time, who has wasted that precious time that has been given to us to do what has to be done.  For how we use this precious, this sacred time, does determine the ultimate outcome for each of us.

What I do, who I am: in this time of waiting that is our lives, that is the life of the world: this determines,--no vaccine here--this determines whether I will be one of those in the filed who are taken of one of those grinding meal: one will be taken, one will be left.  Everything depends on how I wait:  either in killing time by focusing on the world’s illusions that there is always time to do what has to be done, that time will go on in the future and I will always have time to fill my barns against disasters and all will turn out well in the end: that end is a dead end.  Or whether I wait facing the East where the Dawn always rises and whose Light defines all time and my future and the future of the world, and by whose rays I live my life, those rays that are the life-cord to my heart, as I move outward to the end, fearing never the night of Advent but always turned with my face to the Light, to the Star, to the Glory.

How am I waiting?  Am I in the end just focusing on killing time until I get to where I want to be, figuring out the best moves to get to the end of the line as fast as possible?  Am I in the religious line looking at my watch at Mas to see how much time this has killed before I get to do something I want to do?  Do I look at someone’s death as something that has nothing to do with me, another wake to go to, another funeral, and refuse to see what this is calling me to? I who have made so many compromises with the world so that I think that active waiting means manipulating people and events so that husband, wife, children, job, friends, become excuses to turn way from the eternal East and focus on the darkness of the West, to deny the demand that Advent makes for me to actively wait for the one who  is the center of time and space and reality, the person of Jesus Christ?

We wait for thy loving kindness, O Lord.  Much is at stake. The night is far spent. The day is at hand. Christmas, that great and glorious feast, so full of sweetness and light and hope, even in these times of darkness, will come and go. And what then will we wait for?  For next Christmas?  Or for the day of our salvation?

From T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding:

A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern 

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails 

On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel

History is now and England. 

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling 

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time. 

Through the unknown, unremembered gate 

When the last of earth left to discover 

Is that which was the beginning; 

At the source of the longest river 

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for 

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always-- 

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flames are in-folded 

Into the crowned knot of fire 

And the fire and the rose are one.