Time is of great significance to us as Christians. Unlike the belief systems of many of the other religions of the world, in which time has no significance, for Christians time is of paramount importance. When God creates the world he begins by creating time, defining everything else that will be created (including us humans) within the framework of day time and night time.
When God makes a covenant with his chosen people, the Jews, he does so not through a timeless void, but through a relationship in which they will learn and grow through their experiences of living in time. When God’s chosen people turn away from his ways, over and over again (and we read about those experiences so often through the pages of the Old Testament) it is the Prophets who look ahead to a time when God will send his Messiah to sort out the mess and to bring the relationship between God and his people back on track. It is in historical time that God chooses to send his Son Jesus, to live and to die for the whole world; and it is in normal earthly time that God sends his Holy Spirit and calls each one of us to live as a sign of his Kingdom.
The God who is beyond time and matter, and really to be honest beyond anything that we could imagine or understand, chooses to work within our time, our space, to reveal himself and to live in relationship with us. This is the good news of theGospel of Jesus, which he literally embodies for us. Time is not incidental to us as worshippers of God and disciples of Jesus.
The readings at this Eucharist – in this season of Advent, when we both look back to the time before Jesus, when people longed for his coming, and as we prepare ourselves to hear once again the Christmas story of his coming amongst us, and as we look forward to the time when he will one day come again in glory – our readings today emphasise the importance of time for all that we believe. God does not act in an eternal void, God does not remain far from us at a timeless distance, God chooses to work in and through the earthly time that he has created and in which we all live.
In our Gospel reading today the scene is being set for the coming of Jesus. The writers of the Gospel of Luke want to make clear to us that this is not some kind of mystical, mythical, timeless story, similar to the myths of the gods in ancient Rome, which would have been well known to the people who lived in the time of Jesus. What is being recorded for us is a historical account (although not quite the same as the modern ways of recording history that we are familiar with today). The Gospel writers are wanting to say to us: “In this year, when these people were ruling, in this part of the world, John the Baptist began to announce that Jesus was coming.”
We are going to focus a little more on John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus) next weekend when we gather for worship; but for today, we might simply recognise that John is here, in our story as we prepare for the coming of Jesus – announcing that the time is coming when Jesus will be revealed, when his ministry will be inaugurated, and God’s message of love and hope for the world will be seen clearly in his life and teaching, and in his death and his resurrection.
“The time is coming soon,” says John. “I am preparing a way in the wilderness for the moment when Jesus will be revealed to you all.” We can only imagine the joy that the Prophet Malachi (from whom we heard in our Old Testament reading) would have felt had he heard those words from John and known that the time was coming near. Many, many years before the coming of Jesus, Malachi, the last of the Old Testament Prophets longed for the day when the messiah would come, watching and waiting and hoping for his arrival in his own life time.
The first Christians were particularly aware of the need not only to celebrate that God had come to them in Jesus, in historical time, but precisely because he had done so, to mark out the time in which they lived so that they were constantly aware that God continued to be at work in their time as well. Last weekend, in the first weekend of Advent we began to think about this in terms of the seasons of the Christian year: the idea that just as the seasons of the natural year – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – are each different, so in the Church’s year we focus on different themes from the life of Jesus and his Church in a cycle of seasons as well. Anglicans have continued this way of marking time. Our Church presumes that we learn and grow together as disciples of Jesus, by living out the Christian calendar each year in more or less the same way that Christians have done so for nearly 2,000 years.
As the earliest Christians began to develop this cycle of remembering and celebrating and punctuating their own year with special times to focus on different parts of the life of Jesus, so they did so in a more detailed way in their weeks and days as well. We are so familiar with this, as the inheritors of the marking of time that they developed, that we probably don’t regularly stop to give it much thought. Just as the early Christians set aside a particular day and period of time to remember the birth of Jesus, and his death and his resurrection, in the big picture of the whole year, so they also began to construct a framework for reflecting on his life each week and each day.
The central focus of each week for Christians, from very early on in the life of the Church, became Sunday, the day on which Jesus had risen from the dead. It is so obvious that Christians gather together on what became known as ‘The Lord’s Day” or the “Day of Resurrection” that we don’t really stop to think about it. On the first day of the week God created time by establishing light and darkness. On the first day of the week Jesus rose from the dead, on the first day of the week the Holy Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost… and so on the first day of the week Christians have gathered through the centuries as the primary occasion to remember that this is God’s time in which we worship and serve him as the Lord of all creation.
But the earliest Christians also began to set aside other special times as well to worship God. Wednesdays and Fridays were set apart as days when the Church gathered to fast from eating and to pray together. Wednesday, because it was the day when Jesus was betrayed; and Friday because it was the day when Jesus was crucified. In this Parish we have continued to mark Wednesdays for many years, and Fridays more recently as times when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, as Christians have done down through the centuries before us.
Just as the whole year is divided into Christian seasons, each binding our time with different events in the life of Jesus. So each week for a Christian has been marked out as well; and just as it is for each year and each week, so too the early Church divided each day into particular hours for joining their lives with Christ’s as well.
It is in the spirit of what became a very complex series of praying eight times every day, that I am encouraging each of us, in a much simpler way to take a few moments every morning to give thanks to God for his great blessings to us, and to pray for all that is ahead of us in our day, and for those in need; and then at the end of the day to take a few moments again to thank God for the day that has past.
For those who are able to do so, I am hoping that you might consider coming, perhaps once during the week and praying with me in the St Barnabas Chapel in the mornings and in the early evening. Each day since I have been here in the parish, I have come to Church at 7 am, to pray on your behalf for the ministries and people of our congregations, for the wider church and for our country and local community as well. And then again at 5.30 in the evening I have come back to simply name before God those who I have met during the day who especially need God’s blessing.
I realise that for many of you coming to this Church building at those times is either foreign or impossible, and that’s why I am here, to do that on your behalf, in the hope that you too might take a few moments at those times or at times that are more convenient to you for you to do the same at home. Those who live near enough to the Church will hear the bells ring at those times, as a reminder to everyone who lives around us that we claim each day as God’s, and not our own.
In our Advent Wreath prayers at the start of this Eucharist we have reminded ourselves of the message of the prophets. In our Old Testament reading today we heard the longing of Malachi, who was waiting and watching for the time when Jesus would come. In our Gospel reading we heard John the Baptist, at a particular moment in history, announcing that the time was near when Jesus would be revealed. Time is of central importance to us as Christians. We live in the knowledge that because Jesus came and lived in our time, this is now God’s time. Given to us to love him and serve him and enjoy him and one another in Jesus name.
In this season of Advent, as we prepare for the great celebration of his coming among us in Jesus, I invite you to live in the renewed knowledge that God is at work in our lives, in our time, here and now.