First Sunday in Advent
The firsts day I entered the community, I was given a schedule (we called it a horarium) which listed the times we would meet together for prayer or other activities. Almost any community will be governed by its schedule and divisions of time. We have a vast global agreement about uniformity in time. Actually, it is artificial but it works because everyone agrees to it. Before clocks, earlier folks like the Romans had to rely on the movements of the sun. Now we have clocks and calendars to keep things moving at appointed times. When shall we meet?
When is important to locate the time something did or will happen. As simply a time, it doesn’t mean much. January 12, 1996 may not mean anything to you, but it is important to me because it was the day my father died. Two weeks ago, people were asking each other what they were doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated. The event made the whole day memorable. Time and days are invested with importance because they mean something, they are events of change, transition that have affected and changed us. They are events of our own sacred history: puberty, graduation, marriage, operations, tragedies, failures and losses which were turning points in our lives. He met with tragedy. We meet with events, challenges, other people who awaken what had been dormant or waiting for an opportunity within us. We didn’t realize we were being prepared in hidden ways for the demand that would be presented to us. We had to wait for it. We couldn’t really prepare for it since we had no clear idea of what the demand would be. The time would be a Kairos, an event that broke the boundaries of chronological time and transported us into the level of purpose and meaning which escapes the limits of ends we can manage and prepare for. I can remember times in college when the professor would ask the class (well before exam time) if they wanted to know the questions that would be on the final exam. Invariably, the class would say no. Knowing the questions would cramp and undermine the whole process of learning. It would turn it into a process of assuming you knew what you had to learn. Would our life really change if we knew the day of our death or the Lord’s final coming?
If anything, we want to prepare ourselves so thoroughly that we avoid any real meeting. We manage to harden our hearts through compulsions and routines that make us totally insensitive to the question of meaning that the advent of God makes in our lives. Advent is a person, not a season or time. Who and what we wait for determines how we will wait. Or if we will waste time in waiting at all. In his Rule, St. Benedict often uses the word vacare. Vacare lectioni. We must empty a space and time so that we will be free and open enough to meet the Lord in his word and action. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him. Simplicity, humility, attentiveness carve out those spaces in which the Lord can find a responsive and welcoming ear and hands. In that third advent which intervenes, He is hidden, visible only to the elect who see Him in themselves (St. Bernard). Each with his own work.
Those who function only in chronological time will see the two comings of Christ only as historical end points which locate us in an interim period of bewilderment and confusion. Our good deeds are like polluted rags, we have all withered like leaves and our guilt carries us away like the wind. Entering into history as the advent of God rends the walls that keep God’s presence from coming down with awesome deeds. Entering into history as the advent of God is to be awake to his agency, investing divine energy into the events and times of human life, molding, forming and teaching us through events which meet and confront us. It is to understand our life as a liturgy celebrating the Kairos of God. You O Lord are our father. We are the clay and you the potter. We are the work of your hands. The when’s of our life are the when’s of Christ’s life within us.