THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
December 12, 2021
Prayer of the Day
Who are we, Lord God, that you should come to us? Yet you have visited your people and redeemed us in your Son. As we prepare to celebrate his birth, make our hearts leap for joy at the sound of your word, and move us by your Spirit to bless your wonderful works. We ask this through him whose coming is certain, whose day draws near, your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity fo the Holy Spirit, on God, forever and ever. Amen.
Title: Joy in Time
In one of Shakespeare’s narrative poems, a violent attack on an innocent woman – Lacrece- has far reaching and tragic consequences. Immediately after her attack, Lacrece – as Shakespearean characters are wont to do – waxes philosophical in the midst of her heart-rending lamentation and anguish. First she curses dark night that set the stage for such evil to occur. Then she turns her anger on Time.
She cries out: ‘Mis-shapen Time, copesmate of ugly Night,
Swift subtle post, carrier of grisly care,
Eater of youth, false slave to false delight,
Base watch of woes, sin’s pack-horse, virtue’s snare;
Thou nursest all and murder’st all that are:
O, hear me then, injurious, shifting Time!
In her anger she blames Time for creating the opportunity for this dreaded deed to take place. But then, she moves on, being able to see the benefits of time, and she continues:
‘Time’s glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light,
To stamp the seal of time in aged things,
To wake the morn and sentinel the night,
To wrong the wronger till he render right,
To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours,
And smear with dust their glittering golden towers;
Soon she sees that Time can be her ally, as she prays that Time will provide for her attacker’s downfall.
What’s your relationship with Time? Perhaps concepts of time have changed over the past two years. There has been a lot more time spent waiting. A lot more time spent dealing with delayed gratification. A lot more time to ourselves. A lot more time to fill. The 24-hour day has not changed. But of course, Time as a concept, as something lived, is usually not about a measurement, but rather tied to a feeling, an experience. And Time certainly changes over time, as we age. That fifteen minutes of waiting that was an eternity for us as children, in later years passes as a blink of an eye when you arrive in advance of the early-bird-special starting. Time is a fascinating thing to spend some time with. In fact, a lot of Shakespeare’s characters are found musing on Time from one angle or another in a good number of his plays, poems, and sonnets.
The folks wrapped up in that first Advent, that first time of preparing for Jesus’ coming, those who we are getting to know as we read through the first chapter of Luke’s gospel – Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and Mary, and even the more absent Joseph – how are they dealing with time? Is it friend or foe? Is it endured or enjoyed? Is it suspended or speeding?
Well, we know that for Zechariah, it is a perpetual quiet time. Hope he’s enjoying it. Have you found any time to join him in his quiet? In his contemplation of what God was doing in his life… and in yours? How was time passing for him as he silently watched with great hope, his wife swell with baby and with pride as a long held wish for a child was coming to fruition and long held shame subsided? What of that time before the angel’s visit? How long those years must have felt at the time while the aging couple did everything they could to try to keep hope alive. And then, with acceptance that this was their life, perhaps time just plodded along.
Obviously I have no experience with pregnancy, either mine or a spouse’s. So, I am left wondering how time was going for Elizabeth. I’m guessing it can’t go by fast enough to get past the morning sickness stage. If there are complications or concerns, Time probably moves at a snail’s pace as the mother-to-be just wants to get through it safely and see a healthy baby born successfully. And I have certainly heard mothers nearing the end of nine months, wishing they could snap their fingers and jump in time to a baby in their arms.
Here is Elizabeth, six months in, and perhaps she is still wondering just what is going on. She’s got a silent husband and she is unexpectedly expecting. Even in days of pre-medical understanding, I’m guessing she still knew how fragile a late pregnancy can be. Was her time spent protecting and pampering herself and her baby? Or was there still the timely demands of running a household?
And, of course, Mary – how many times did she say to herself – what lousy timing. Couldn’t this have waiting till after the wedding? Why now, God? How much time did it take for her to get up the courage to tell Joseph? My big question for today’s passage is: did Mary even tell Joseph before hightailing it up to the hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth? Perhaps, after hearing the news from Gabriel, and remember, Gabriel also told Mary about Elizabeth’s condition, perhaps Mary needed a little confirmation, and little consolation, a whole lot of communication with someone who understood the times that she was going through and looking forward to. This brings on a new discussion of Time dealing with solitary time as compared to communal time.
This meeting of these two women is timeless. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, in this meeting faith and hope are confirmed for both women. Confusion and questions are silenced. Frozen time of doubt and uncertainty are melted away when they come together. Elizabeth’s child is jumping for joy. And that witness is all that Mary needs to see for herself to know that what God is working in her is true. And so, in great joy, she sings. She sings one of the most glorious songs recorded in scripture. The Magnificat – titled for the first words: My soul magnifies the Lord. (Take note, it is not at the annunciation that Mary sings this song. At the angel’s announcement it is a short response of YES that Mary speaks. It is not until she has taken the time to visit the only one who will understand what is going on that she is able to let go and sing out with amazing joy, inspiring joy, world embracing joy, faith and hope filled joy.
It is a joy that reaches far beyond her bundle of joy. It is joy that is born out of God’s justice, God’s rule that leaves no one out, God’s reign that seeks to turn our corrupted world upside down so that no one is hungry, no one is wanting, no one is oppressed, no one is suffering. In God’s time all are brought onto that level playing field that is established by the mercy, grace, and love that we witness in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And of God’s reign, there is no time, there is no waiting, there is no ending, there is only timelessness, only eternity.
These two women were measuring their pregnancies in time that the Greeks referred to as kronos.
Births and God’s actions are declared in time called Kairos – time seen as fulfillment.
Paul knew well these two words for time. Today we again hear from his writings to the Christians in Philippi, Greece. And whenever you see a passage from Philippians, remind yourself, these are the words of an incarcerated individual. Paul is certainly measuring his time by day after imprisoned day. But, through the work of the Holy Spirit, he sees only Kairos and he joins the faithful (not in body but in spirit through this letter) and the community of faith is rejoicing, they are holding on to hope, they are finding peace, because it is Kairos. They are seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise and presence in time.
And so are we, though our kronos may be long and drawn out, taxing and tedious, filled with hesitation and doubt, long suffering and challenge. Like Lecrece we may curse the time that brings pain and wears away at our lives. But in God’s Kairos, we come together, we share with one another, we proclaim in community and to the world what God is doing in our lives. And so, we rejoice in and reflect God’s fulfillment that we experience in the sacraments and that we hear in the word. With Elizabeth we say in wonder and awe “why has God done this to us,” we sing with Mary that God’s reign has come through Jesus, and, even when time can drag like a prison sentence, the Spirit is inviting us to be, like Paul, lifted with a joy and a peace that is beyond our understanding. Rejoice, the fulfillment of God – is now in this Time and is timeless, and in that, we can find joy.
The Rev. Mark Erson,