Is there plenty of time?
Advent Sunday BCP
02 December 2007 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece
William Barclay in one of his biblical commentaries tells a story about an apprentice devil who is sent to earth to deceive mankind. Satan asks the little devil how he plans to go about his mission. The apprentice devil says he will try to persuade humans that there is no God. But Satan says experience has taught him that this ploy simply doesn’t work. The devil then suggests that he could discredit any kind of belief in hell. Satan commends him on his idea but insists that this approach wouldn’t be a winner either. Satan, however, is taken with the apprentice devil’s third idea and tells him to go ahead with his plan – which is simply to tell mankind that there is plenty of time.
During the season of Advent the readings and the prayers remind us that time is not unlimited. The Old Testament looks forward to the coming of Christ – the Advent of God made man. The New Testament testifies that Christ has already come – but there is a supplementary reminder that he is to come again. That is why the season of Advent calls us to meditate upon the four last things – Death Judgement Heaven and Hell. The spirit of penitence and holy waiting which is at the heart of advent hope, is of course totally counter cultural given the wining, dining, feasting and making merry that has already begun in advance of Christmas. But it would be a pity for Christians to give up attempting a serious observance of Advent, for this time is not only a time of preparation for Christmas, but also of preparation for eternity.
Yes, the Victory of Christ over sin and death has been won once and for all on the cross, and the story of our salvation has already been worked out in time, in history. But it is still also to be completed when time as we know it passes into eternity at Christ’s second coming. Today’s epistle, which Graham read for us, tells us that the time we have for preparing for the second coming is to be used in rejecting the power of darkness and evil in our own lives.
As human beings we all experience time where there is a past, a present and a future. It has a beginning and an end. In the Bible however, there are two kinds of time. The first kind is that which has to do with events in world history. The word used for it is chronos in Greek – and that is where we get the word chronology. Jesus Christ being born during the reign of Caesar Augustus is a matter of historical fact, and this is the chronos time of the Incarnation. The other kind of time in the Bible is called kairos, and this is God’s time. This is a time that humans cannot manipulate or interfere with – and the Incarnation happens in God’s time as well. In the fullness of time we sometimes say. It was his plan from eternity and human beings had no control over it.
When Christ comes again it will be in God’s kairos time – nobody knows the day nor the hour. Indeed it will be an hour we do not expect. But Jesus does tell us that it will happen at a time when people are eating, drinking, marrying and in a state of being unprepared – just as it was before the flood in Noah’s time. This isn’t to say in any way that Jesus is against eating or marrying at all – but rather against insidious indifference to God’s plan, and the kairos moments of gracious opportunity given to each of us.
So, that apprentice devil in the story may have chosen the best way of deceiving mankind after all. Making us believe there is plenty of time. Far safer to follow the advice of St. Paul from today’s epistle: to awake out of sleep…cast off the works of darkness…and put on the armour of light. To engage with the now of God, rather than the later of our vain and vague ‘never upon a time’.
‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open,
all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit’