Sunday Musings: Advent 1
Advent's wrinkle in time
Today begins Advent with the first Sunday of the Christian liturgical year. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipation — and longing for the fulfillment of our hopes and God’s dream of peace.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about time, history, and the future. I invite you into these musings to reconsider the times in which we live in relation to the sacred mystery of time.
Advent opens with three short texts from Isaiah, Romans, and Matthew — all about sacred time.
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
There are few books I’ve loved as much as I love Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I first read it when I was about ten, just shy of the age of the protagonist, Meg Murry. And the story follows her, her brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin, on a journey through time and space to find the Murry children’s missing father, aided by three mysterious strangers: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.
Mr. Murry is “behind the darkness” on a frightening world called Camazotz. The children can only reach it through the means of the tesseract by “wrinkling” in time. But Meg has trouble understanding what that means and Mrs. Which tries to explain:
“Wwee musste ggo bbehindd thee sshaddow.”
“But we will not do it all at once,” Mrs. Whatsit comforted them. “We will do it in short stages. She looked at Meg. “Now we will tesser, we will wrinkle again. Do you understand?”
“No,” Meg said flatly.
Mrs. Whatsit signed. “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words. Calvin talked about traveling at the speed of light. You understand that, little Meg?”
“Yes,” Meg nodded.
“That, of course, is the impractical, long way around. We have learned to take short cuts wherever possible. . .” Mrs. Whatsit looked over at Mrs. Who. “Take your skirt and show them.”
Mrs. Who took a portion of her white robe in her hands and held it tight. “You see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “if a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs. Who’s right hand to her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”
Swiftly, Mrs. Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt together. “Now, you see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “he would be there without that long trip. That is how we travel.”
The three Misses and her prodigy younger brother, Charles Wallace, continue to explain to Meg how Time is the fourth dimension, and the tesseract is the fifth. “In other words,” Charles Wallace said, “a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”
* * * * *
The readings for the first Sunday of Advent all place us in time: “In days to come,” “You know what time it is,” and “that day and hour no one knows.”
On the face of it, that sounds simple. But it isn’t. What time is it? And what is time? Are we close or far, near or distant? Is time a line, a circle, a spiral, or a cylinder? Is it easily ordered by clocks and calendars, or does it flow like a river or blow like a breeze? Is it divided into past, present, and future? Does it mark our lives? Or is time primarily our experiences of dislocations, disruptions, and disjunctures?
Advent is particularly confusing when it comes to time. When I was little, I remember asking my mother about Advent as we lit the first candle of the wreath: “What are we waiting for?” She said, without hesitation, “We’re waiting for Jesus to be born.”
“But wasn’t he already born, Mommy? A long time ago?” I couldn’t figure this out, “Why are we waiting for something that already happened?”
Advent, of course, reenacts a past event as if it is new each year. And every week, in liturgical churches, we are reminded that “Christ will come again.” That’s the other Advent — the future one that hasn’t happened yet. Advent is about both of those times: the first coming of Jesus’ birth and the second coming of Jesus’ return. It is also true that Jesus comes to our hearts, a kind of personal Advent for every Christian. We’re waiting for Jesus — a memory, an experience, and a hope.
Christians have struggled to understand this. Entire New Testament books try to make sense of God and human time, of the various comings of Jesus, and of the tension between This Age and the expectation of The Age to Come. Christian theology speaks of already and not yet, of creation and re-creation, of memory and anticipation. In a warring world, we await swords to be turned into plowshares. While governments slumber to injustice, we awake to liberation. As we toil in ordinary work, we are aware of God’s impending approach.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” sounds the Voice in John’s mystical revelation, “the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Perhaps we aren’t supposed to make sense of sacred time, of Advent and the multiple advents. The season of Advent invites us to see beyond the shadow, to be able to go behind the darkness and discover the pure love hidden on the other side.
It isn’t a straight line from Alpha to Omega — it is a wrinkle in time — like the hem of Mrs. Who’s robe. Moving through time is where unexpected edges touch, mystery overlaps mystery, the journey of ages and eons and epochs dancing together like stars and planets. Maybe that’s the only way we glimpse the Bright Star, the rising dawn of the dream Isaiah saw.
Advent is much more than an arrival. It is more of a tesseract — a journey through time, flowing with wonder, a mysterious winding way to the place behind the darkness. Let’s join hands and go there together.
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My apartment faces west, and when I go to bed at night and turn out the lights I can see across the great Hudson River to the lights of New Jersey. I can often see the planes coming in, en route to La Guardia Airport, looking like moving stars, though even when the sky is clear there are few real stars visible because of the city lights that burn all night. I think of the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, about four light years away — about twenty-three million miles. The rare stars I see may be three hundred light years away, and three thousand light years away, and three million. When we human creatures look up at the night sky we are able to see into the furthest reaches of time.
— Madeleine L’Engle
If you want to know how science and religion are related, first come to know the deepest truth of yourself. This is what I realized when I looked into the nighttime sky: I saw myself in the stars and the stars within me.
— Sr. Ilia Delio
Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!
— Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius
God does not determine everything, but presents a vision of beauty and the energy to achieve it for every moment of experience.
― Bruce G. Epperly
Next time what I’d do is look at
the earth before saying anything. I’d stop
just before going into a house
and be an emperor for a minute
and listen better to the wind
or to the air being still.
When anyone talked to me, whether
blame or praise or just passing time,
I’d watch the face, how the mouth
has to work, and see any strain, any
sign of what lifted the voice.
And for all, I’d know more — the earth
bracing itself and soaring, the air
finding every leaf and feather over
forest and water, and for every person
the body glowing inside the clothes
like a light.
— Mary Oliver
Last year, I sent a post every day in December as an online Advent Calendar. This year, I hosted a gratitude month in November with daily posts instead of December daily offerings.
But you can revisit last year’s Advent calendar — or visit it for the first time if you weren’t at The Cottage last year!
I’ll send out the links for the entire week each Sunday. Just bookmark Sunday Musings, come back to this newsletter each day, and click on the link for the appropriate date. The Advent calendar begins on December 1.
Advent Calendar December 1: Transformation is Drawing Near
Advent Calendar December 2: Observe and Contemplate
Advent Calendar December 3: The Advent Owl
Advent Calendar December 4: War on Advent
NOTE: The 2021 special offer for a free book with a gift subscription is no longer available. The 2022 gift offer — 10% off a year subscription — can be found above.
GEORGIA ON OUR MINDS
SOUTHERN LIGHTS 2023 is almost upon us! Y’all come!
This coming January on St. Simons Island in Georgia, Brian McLaren and I are hosting extraordinary guests including Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, theologian Reggie Williams, and Franciscan sister and scientist Ilia Delio in a weekend festival of reimagining faith in words, for the world, and in context of the cosmos — poetry, theology, and science!
We’re also going to do live, on-stage podcasts with guest pod hosts Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Tripp Fuller — and great music from the wonderful Ken Medema.
Please join us in Georgia or virtually online. CLICK HERE for info and registration!
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