“Instead we believe that it’s a straight trajectory into the future, and we can go as fast as we please. This can move us away from nature, from rhythm, from others, from God and even from a sense of place.”
How the Church Tells Time
There are many ways to tell time. We use clocks and calendars, for example. We might mark time by our birthdays or when school begins and ends. A day has 24 hours, a week has 7 days, and a year has 365 days. If we think of these conceptually, we generally see them on a line. January is at the beginning; December is at the end.
But the Church tells time differently. The Church’s year is Christological. As the Reverend Jerome Berryman explains in his book Young Children and Worship, the Church “tells time by celebrating the events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.” These are divided into two cycles. A key word here is cycle—it denotes a circular movement, not a linear one. The two cycles—Christmas and Easter—are divided further into our six Church seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
We begin the season of Advent November 27th this year. The first Sunday of Advent is also the first Sunday of a new church year. It marks the end of the old Church year and the beginning of the new. The word advent comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival.” In Advent we are waiting for the coming of the birth of Christ. In our own lives, Advent can be a special time of learning to wait and slow down.
Margaret Wheatley in an article Servant Leadership and Community Leadership in the 21st Century writes that one of the crises of our age is the belief that we can ignore or negotiate with time. This mis-guided belief, she says causes us to forget about the natural rhythms and cycles of life. “Instead we believe that it’s a straight trajectory into the future, and we can go as fast as we please. This can move us away from nature, from rhythm, from others, from God and even from a sense of place.”
Wheatley adds that as people in the Christian tradition, and especially for those of us in liturgical churches, it is time to say ENOUGH! We must take time to think. We must take time to reflect. We must take time to slow down and enjoy the cycles of nature and our own lives. Advent is a season for helping us do just this.
Advent can teach us to wait. How do you learn to wait? Our culture is not a particularly adept teacher at this. It seems to teach us to hurry, be impatient, and want instant gratification. Some of the traditions of Advent such as the Advent calendar and Advent wreath are about the opposite – about slowing down and learning to wait. How might you use them this Advent? As we await the birth of Christ what might we be waiting to be born in our own lives?
Advent is a gift of time if we will only grasp it. It is a time to move more slowly, spend more time with family, friends, and with God.
Carolyn Moomaw Chilton writes and blogs as a spiritual discipline and an invitation to conversation with others. She is currently on staff at Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia as the Assistant for Evangelism and Stewardship.