For it is impossible to “put Christ back into Christmas” if He has not redeemed it — that is, made meaningful — time itself.
One of the subversive affects of following the Christian calendar is how this way of marking time intrudes upon us. Jesus’ claim is that he is Lord over all. Lord over our money. Lord over our politics. Lord over every human kingdom. Jesus is even Lord over time. There are few things we consciously think of less – and few things that (though we barely ever consider it) rule us more overtly than the way we live and measure our days. Whether your prevailing calendar is an academic year or a fiscal year or a retail year (and will someone, for God’s sake, please stop Black Friday from swallowing up that one small space of quiet we had left – Thanksgiving) or merely a plodding-along year, the Church’s calendar stands there, quiet and solid, resisting every competing claim for our devotion.
Our calendars mark our time and, with each tick, remind us to get moving (faster) and to get planning and to get working – because, of course, ruin awaits if we don’t rule our minutes well.
The Church Year, however, does much more than mark time; it tells a story. The Church Year invites us to enter, each and every year after year after year, the central narrative of our history: the story of God come to us in Jesus, living, dying and living again – and now ruling over the universe and moving toward that moment when all God’s creation is good and peaceful once again.
And this is crucial for us to remember – God’s time always begins with rest. Each week begins with sabbath, the day where we rest from our labour, content in the fact that since God is working, we don’t have to. Most humans view rest as reward. After we’ve exerted all our energy and emptied all our resources, then finally we can collapse and receive a moment’s rest and try (at least for a nanosecond) to recoup without guilt. This is a miserable way to live. This is also a very secular, human-centered way to live.
God’s invitation is to begin each week resting first. Each week, we acknowledge that we are not Lord of the Universe. We do not make anything happen. The sun will rise and fall without us. We cannot, when all is said and done, control our fortunes or secure our family’s well-being. We do our part; but we are completely reliant on God doing God’s part first. We work from rest, not the other way around. And this practice takes shape at every level. In the Hebrew daily rhythm, the day begins at sundown. In other words, the day begins with sleep. You sleep first, resting while God is at work; and then, you awake to join God in whatever activity God has already been up to.
It makes complete sense then why Advent is the beginning of the Church Year. Advent is a time of waiting, resting and being quiet. In Advent, we don’t do much of anything … other than sit and wait and hope and pray. Our attention is turned fully toward God. For four weeks, we have a long sabbath. We rest in anticipation for all God has been – and is now – doing.