Now I know that Advent, like any other aspect of our liturgical life, is not about just one thing. It weaves together multiple themes, multiple strands of meaning. But I also can’t ignore the clear message this morning that Advent is at least in part about time. In our collect, we prayed God for grace “to cast away” and to “put on,…now in the time of this mortal life,” so that “in the last day…we may rise to the life immortal” (BCP, 211). We heard in our reading from Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord,…”; and “In those days and at that time…”; and once more, “In those days…” (33:14, 15, 16). Paul writes to the Thessalonians that he prays earnestly “night and day” to see them again face to face (1 Thessalonians 3:10).
So maybe I was predisposed this past week to pick up on messages about time. Still, this is what came in the mail on Monday. [Holds up advertisement:] “Time is…Running Out.” Time to order my new liturgical calendar for 2022, from the Ashby Company in Eire, PA. A message brought to me by a cheerful, if slightly ridiculous, cartoon clock. Then on Tuesday – at 8:12am to be exact – I was informed that “Betty Taylor wants to be friends with you on Facebook.” Wait! Betty Taylor? That’s my Mom. We’d been Facebook friends since forever. But she died two years, eleven months, and six days ago – on Saturday night before the Fourth Sunday of Advent. I’m guessing there’s some little gear in the massive mechanism of Facebook’s almighty algorithm that re-sends friend requests after an extended time of being out of touch. What did I just say? An extended time out of touch? I have not replied to my Mom’s friend request. But I also can’t bring myself to delete the message.
Enough about mail and email. Here’s what I bring to us all on the first Sunday of a new Advent season. Advent may indeed be about time. But not clock time. Not time as a thing that can be measured, cut down, divided up into discreet little bits. A commodity that can be made or passed, wasted or killed. No. Advent is more about the quality of time than its quantity. Circular, not linear. Organic, rather than artificial. Body time. Natural time. Earth time. The kind of time Jesus speaks about in his parable of the fig tree, of all the trees: “As soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near” (Luke 21:29-30). The kind of time those two pregnant women – Elizabeth and Mary – experienced within themselves, carried in their flesh and bones and shared with one another. We’ll hear their story in a few weeks (Luke 1:39-55). People time. Body time. Advent time.
I wonder what it would be like to hear the words in our prayers and scriptures this morning about Jesus’ coming and coming again – even life immortal – not as some future point on a straight line of clock time, but as the roundness, the fullness, of body time here and now? How might that shift our entry into Advent?
At first, we might be surprised by Jesus’ timing. Our gospel reading begins with these words of his: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). Then Jesus continues: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down by dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (21:34). All this sounds so very familiar. These words could just as well have been found among today’s newspaper headlines, and on the lips of television anchors. Or in the hidden recesses of our hearts. What might be surprising is how Jesus invites us to respond to all this bad news: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (28).
That’s the message. Advent / body time gives us something to do, and Advent / body time assures us we don’t have to do it on our own. Shows us dance steps to make a way through the bad news and provides a partner to take the lead. Don’t let your hearts be weighed down. Stand up. Raise your heads. Cast away and put on, so that you may rise.
But our hearts are so weighed down. Whether it be COVID or race in America, climate disaster or threats to democracy, our experience is the same. Every time we appear poised for healing and some normalcy, we get blindsided once again. Yet another variant. A verdict condoning white supremacy for every one combatting it. We keep our heads down to avoid seeing the world we live in. We crouch on the floor paralyzed by fear or curl up in a corner of distraction. How do I even start writing that letter or dialing that phone number or truly reducing my carbon footprint – I’ve been thinking about it and yet failing to follow through for so long. Too long? What’s even left to make a beginning?
No, stand up and raise your heads. Cast away and put on. For it is now in the time of this mortal life “that Jesus Christ came to visit us” (BCP, 211) and it is to this world that he comes again, and again, and again. Advent time is not about everybody getting vaccinated, although we all should. Advent is not about passing laws protecting voting rights – as crucial as they’re proving to be. Instead, yes: Advent time is body of Christ time. New words will invite us to communion this Advent at our 5:00pm mass. For years, we have come to the altar in response to: “The gifts of God for the people of God.” Beginning this evening, we will hear another ancient invitation: “Behold who you are”; and respond: “May we become who we receive.” Behold and become the body of Christ in this world and for this world.
I received a third message about time this past week. Debra was cleaning out her prayer books, Bible, and hymnal drawer after months of journaling with the Psalms, one psalm a day! She was wondering what might come next for her as a personal devotional practice. She came across this twenty-five year old worship bulletin from a former church. [Holds bulletin up.] She had saved it for the words of a choir anthem she particularly liked. “E’en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.” I wasn’t familiar with the song, so I listened to a recording on YouTube and then did a little research into its origins.
Turns out Paul and Ruth Manz began collaborating on some words and a tune back in 1953 around the hospital bed of their critically ill three-month old son. E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come. Not come at some future moment and whisk us away from life with its bad news. No, quickly come – show up here and now. Better, because Jesus is always already with us: yes, quickly come and stand up with us. Raise our heads and our weighed-down hearts. Lead us in the dance. Quickly come, so that the joy of new beginnings we carry deep within our flesh and bones might make a way through the endings all around us.
I listened to the National Lutheran Choir’s recording of “E’en so, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.” Youtube.com, November 29, 2015; accessed November 24, 2021.
There’s a Wikipedia page about the Manz’s anthem: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E%27en_So,_Lord_Jesus,_Quickly_Come, accessed November 24, 2021.
St. Augustine’s original wording is: “Behold what you are, become what you receive” (Easter Sermon, 227). We chose to personalize it as “who” for our liturgical use at St. Paul’s.