Advent Reflections – Time Redeemed

One of my first impressions of Orthodox Christianity (besides a jarring dose of culture shock) was that time flows differently here. Something mysterious happened when I entered the church for services: time became beautiful. No longer merely the engine of change and decay, time in the Orthodox liturgical setting seemed to bear something of eternity.

Nicole Roccas in Time and Despondency

We put up our Christmas tree this week – a Frasier Fir, fresh from the forest of Quebec via a large truck and Boston Christmas Trees situated right in the middle of a busy part of Boston. We did not wander into a forest and, in a Hallmark movie moment, cut down the tree with an axe and drag it through the snow. No – we went to an area busy with traffic, bars, hair salons, and Korean restaurants. It is steps away from our church and a place we’ve been going to pick our tree every year since 2008, with the exception of our year in Kurdistan. Trees are piled up high as seasonal employees help the idealists, romantics, and realists pick out the perfect tree (which of course is different for all of them!)

It is decorated with no less than 400 twinkle lights as a way to bring light to a season characterized by waiting in the dark. We had neighbors come over to help decorate, filling the void that five children who have left, now establishing homes of their own, creates. Our home filled with laughter, mulled wine, and Christmas treats as we enjoyed creating beauty together.

In our church tradition, Advent is not only a time of waiting, but also a time of fasting. It is counter intuitive and counter cultural to be sure, but I have come to appreciate the fast before a feast, the way this draws me into deeper contemplation of pivotal events in the church, in this case the Incarnation and God becoming man.

It is an extraordinary mystery that the creator of time willingly confined himself to the limitations of time through the Incarnation. Suddenly he who is above and beyond time knew what it was to enter into it. His entering time came full circle and allowed us to enter eternity – first by being reunited with God himself through Christ and then recognizing, believing and entering into these events through the Church and her liturgical reminders of what goes into a life of faith.

Our Epistle reading yesterday was from the book of Ephesians – specifically Ephesians 5 where the writer of the book exhorts the readers to walk as children of light, “redeeming the time.” It’s a beautiful and hard phrase. Beautiful because those of us who have lived for a while have regrets and long for time that we wasted, or time when we hurt people or suffered hurt, to be redeemed. We long for hurt and suffering to mean something more than a wasted time of pain and grief. It is a hard phrase for the same reasons. “How can this be redeemed” we ask during the quiet, dark of a sleepless night when no one is there to listen except God. How are these things that are so broken restored? How are relationships mended? How is wasted time and conversation ever really redeemed?

We also long for the more mundane aspects of seemingly wasted time to mean something. I was just in traffic that made me batshit crazy. It’s those Boston drivers….and I’m one of them! How do I redeem that time? Meetings at work that mean nothing to eternity – how are those redeemed.

Again, I come back to the mystery of Advent. If a virgin can give birth to a Savior, give birth to a Redeemer, then surely in some mysterious way, time can be redeemed. In recognizing Christ’s incarnation, I also recognize his capture of time, this one event changing all of history – what came before and what came after. This birth that led to death and resurrection is the pinnacle of time redeemed.

What does it mean for me, then, to live as one who walks in the light, redeeming the time? Perhaps an important step on that journey is recognizing Advent and giving thanks that a time of waiting brought forth a glorious life altering birth. Perhaps in the waiting in the hard of the night or the hard of the morning traffic, the waiting is bringing about a redemption that I can’t even imagine. I’ll be on that journey until the day when my breath and life stop. Until then, these words from St. John Chrysostom offer me a further glimpse into what this looks like.

The time is not yours. At present you are strangers, and sojourners, and foreigners, and aliens; do not seek honors, do not seek glory, do not seek authority, nor revenge; bear all things, and in this way, ‘redeem the time’.

St. John Chrysostom

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