We have arrived at the first Sunday of Advent. Happy New Year! In the church calendar, this marks the beginning of a new year in the great journey of sacred time. But what is sacred time? What does it mean for time to be holy?
Time is holy when it has meaning. July 4th, for example, is not just another day in the United States. It is a day when we celebrate our independence. Our birthdays too are not just another rotation of the Earth at a point in its orbit, they are days when we celebrate who we are. But the interesting thing about sacred time is that it doesn’t just signify where we have been, it signifies where we are going. In the great journey of life we are caught somewhere in the middle of “already” and “not yet.”
During Advent, our liturgical life (our life of prayer and worship together) centers around watchfulness. It is a time when we are preparing ourselves, as if we are awake in the early hours of the morning before an exciting day, breathless as we await the sunrise. We await the coming of Christ; we are in the “not yet.”
But Jesus already came! Jesus has already been born. So what are we waiting for? The answer lies in our understanding of sacred time and the Christian journey. It can be heard in today’s gospel reading. In chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel, which takes place just before the account of Jesus’ passion and death, Jesus tells the disciples that the Temple—the most sacred place in the whole world for them—will be destroyed in the days to come. He goes on to describe hardships and troubles that they will have to face in their generation, but that Christ will come again. Then he gives them this instruction: “watch.” They never know when the time will come, so they must be ready.
In the time of the early church, it was thought that Jesus would triumphantly return within the lifetime of those who had followed him. Mark’s gospel was written around 70 a.d., when the Temple was indeed destroyed and great hardship was falling on Jews and Christians alike. They, like all of us, were caught in a time between “already” and “not yet.” Jesus had already come! He had risen and conquered death! But the story hadn’t ended. His followers still struggled and still pressed on to the vision Christ had weaved into their hearts and minds: the kingdom of God.
In the great progression of sacred time, we continue in this journey between “already” and “not yet”, glorifying in the coming of Christ but forever running toward the vision of God’s reign. Christ showed us through his life, death, and resurrection that we don’t need to be afraid, and that we can live in God’s love. He has already shown us the way. But we have not yet run the race! In all our daily work, in every celebration, in every heart, at every moment throughout time, we move toward the kingdom of God, seeking to bring it about for all those around us. We chase after it ceaselessly in every age—the promise of a heaven that is “not yet,” but will surely come.
And so, Advent is a time when we remember where we have been and where we are going. We remember that as Christians, we forever seek to bring about God’s good work in the world. So let us be watchful! We do not know when the time will come for us to do God’s work in the world.
Reflection by Bob Killion, Campus Minister