Last week, I had the chance to be in Prague, and among other things to see is Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock. It is 608 years old (installed in 1410) and it not only tells the time, but also has dials that represent where the sun and moon are as well as how much daylight there will be. I smiled as I thought… today, we have smart watches that can do all of this as well as monitor our health, our sleep, and pay for a latté!
Thankfully, measuring time and seasons is built into our church tradition. Advent is the season of waiting that preceded Christmas. And if we are attentive, it can be a great season of reflection and invitation of Christ’s light into our lives as well as a reminder that we are to shine his light into a dark world.
Time that takes away, and time that gives
It is interesting that in Greek (the language of the New Testament), there were two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos indicated chronological, sequential time. Kairos referred to the indeterminate “right” moment of something, the critical moment. The Greek titan Chronos personified destructive time, which consumes all things. Kairos, on the other hand, represented generative time, that produces or brings about.
In the context of Church seasons, Advent is the season which brings about… it is an active waiting. At Christmas Jesus arrives at ‘just the right kairos.’ At the darkest part of the year, in the midst of the longest night… God strikes a match that illuminates a small humble candle that will shine hope to all of humanity.
City lights cannot be hidden
If you are to travel at night to our city of Montreal, the city lights strikingly appear from even a great distance. This was true in the ancient world as well, and this is the picture Jesus used to trigger his disciples’ imaginations. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)
During advent Jesus ‘shines a light’ on various parts of our lives. If we welcome it, God can examine our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviours. But we need to pay particular attention to how well his light shines through us. This is the main idea of this passage in Matthew 5:13-20… “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
While I was in Europe last week, I was impressed by how focused the churches were on sharing God’s light. One pastor from Norway shared with us how their church had discerned that its mission should be reaching the lost around them. They decided to use the slogan « find one more » inspired from the image of a good shepherd who goes off to find even one lost sheep.
Are people lost without God?
The witness of my European friends was a good reminder to me. In Montreal, we rarely talk about people as if they are lost. We are much more comfortable concluding that they simply don’t believe the same things as us. Maybe they believe in another religion, or are not religious at all. The categories of ‘lost’ and ‘found’ seem archaic and intolerant.
But, what does lost mean in the context of orthodox Christian faith and practice? It means that every person is in need of God, in need of God’s grace. Specifically, we are all in need conversion, deep change, that comes only from God, through faith in Christ. An inescapable commitment of the Christian faith is precisely that people do need God, and we are lost and in the dark without God’s light.
I get how tricky this language is in the secular and interfaith contexts we live in.
But, to put it bluntly, Christianity is not a hobby. It is not something we just enjoy, or something we know a lot about or are good at.
Christianity is an individual encounter with God, self-awareness of our own spiritual need for grace. Christianity is a lifelong commitment to follow Christ and to share our faith in Christ with others.
Notice Jesus gave both a positive image of light (the city on a hill), and a negative image of light (a lamp put under a basket). “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket.” (Matthew 5:15) If we are not willing to let our light shine, we’re like the lamp, or candle, hidden by another object and casting only shadows.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” More specifically, only God’s love in Christ can drive out spiritual darkness. This Advent, it may be time to refill the oil in your lamp, or to trim your wick! May Jesus visit you with his light and kindle his fire anew in your heart.
This was shared in a sermon at the beginning of Advent 2018
Readings: Matthew 5:13-20; Psalm 119:105-112; Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7