Keeping Time is Keeping Faith
I did not learn to keep the rhythms of the Christian calendar as a child, despite having grown up in church before the time when my feet touched the floor. We called ourselves Christians, and yet we measured time’s marching exactly as Hallmark did: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Only Sunday mornings set us apart from our neighbours; there was neither grocery shopping nor golf.
My husband had a similar church upbringing: a tradition-less tradition, as it were. When we began dating, however, we began attending a liturgical church, and for the span of a year, kept a more purposeful calendar. We understood, for the very first time, that Christmas was preceded by Advent, Easter by Lent.
Some have understood, better than we did growing up, that keeping time is a way of keeping faith. This was certainly true for ancient Israel. They marked their movement through time each week with a seventh day of rest—through the years with scheduled days of fasting and feasting. Their calendar was not organized around the rhythms of work and vacation and August school shopping. Instead, worship was the organizing principle of their time. As someone has written, “The Jew’s calendar [was] his catechism.”
Advent—these four weeks set apart before Christmas—is part of the Christian’s catechism. Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” and it causes us both to remember the first coming of the Christ as well as to long for his second coming. But while it’s meant to be a season for preparing to receive the newborn king, for all of us, December runs at breakneck speed, dragging us tinselled and tangled behind it. If December has its way with us, it will leave us too distracted to look up, as the shepherds did, and notice the blinding glory of the Lord.
To enter Advent is to make the decision to become a time-keeping people whose calendar is organized around worship. And the good news, especially in December, is that God entered time in the most distracted of days. God’s people had nearly given up looking for him. He came to a graying Elisabeth when her shame had seemed terribly final. He came to Zechariah in the middle of his shift at the temple. He came to Joseph in a fitful night of sleep. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, God entered time so that his people could become a time-keeping people, weeks and years organized around the worship of the one who had made the first evening and morning and called it good.
Text: Jen Michel