This Sunday, difficult as it is to believe, is the first Sunday of Advent, and the wheel of our annual cycle of devotion will turn one more time, and the rush of Christmas preparations, secular and sacred and those two jumbled together, is suddenly upon us.
"Time flies!", we shout. "Where does the time go?", we ask. That sensation we all share of time rushing past - or even, perhaps when we were children longing for Christmas morning, of time so-slowly creeping past - is a sign to us, even a timely Advent-ish reminder, that though we dwell in time, we are never quite at home in time. (Here, by the way, is my favorite attempt to declare peace with time's passing, which turns, inevitably, melancholic: Sandy Denny's beautiful song with Fairport Convention, "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" - I also like Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs brilliant cover.)
That sense of dislocation is an especially appropriate and helpful in Advent. Jesus is coming; history is either rushing or crawling toward its end, depending upon your perspective. As we will pray in Sunday's collect: as once he "came to visit us in great humility... he shall come again in his glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead." Our unease with time reminds us that we share with aged Simeon his longing and expectation for Israel's consolation, that this world as it is is not as it ought to be, not what God will one great day remake it to be, when his kingdom is fully come: "a kingdom of truth and life; a kingdom of grace and holiness; a kingdom of peace, of love, and righteousness," as we prayed at last Sunday's Mass of Christ the King. C.S. Lewis wrote of our odd and unsettled to time's passing this way:
Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or would not always be, purely aquatic creatures? Then, if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest? It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed by it--how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren't adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.
Time flies, time creeps, but Advent is a privileged time for turning again to the Lord, who is our consolation and our hope, who says, “Surely I am coming soon." To which our patient and expectant keeping of Advent embodies our reply: "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"
God bless you and grant you a watchful Advent,