The first Sunday of Advent this year, our worship service at Peace Mennonite focused on the issue of time–particularly the distinction between Chronos and Kairos.
During December, Chronos, or chronological time, is emphasized in many ways. The secular world tells us how many shopping days we have until Christmas. At home, many of us use some sort of Advent calendar—counting down the days until December 25. At church we mark the passing of time by lighting a new candle each week.
Chronos is what it’s all about. Getting from here to Christmas. Some of us want to get to Christmas so that we can open our presents. Some of us want to get to Christmas so we can have a day or two off of work. Some of us might even get caught up in the spiritual excitement and want to get to Christmas so that we can celebrate the birth of Jesus. And some of us just want to get it over with.
So we go day to day. We light one candle, then two, then three. We move one day closer on our Advent calendar.
But Advent is also a season when those of us in the church are deeply aware of Kairos time. In ancient Greek thought, Kairos is the supreme moment—the opportune time for something to occur. In Christian understanding, Kairos is the fullness of time—the right time for God to act.
One could make a good case that the incarnation of God in Jesus represents the ultimate Kairos moment of history. The messiah, for whom the people have been waiting for centuries, has finally come. It was finally the right moment for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us.
This imposition of Kairos into our Chronos can feel pretty awkward. It seems odd to be waiting for something that happened over 2000 years ago. It’s somewhat surreal to condense a nine-month pregnancy into four weeks (or so). It is sometimes disconcerting to move toward the light as the darkness grows longer each day (at least in the Northern hemisphere).
This awkwardness, though, is as it should be. As Christians, we are called to live within both kinds of time—all the time. Advent is just a good reminder.
Living in Chronos, of course, is a given. Only the most isolated hermits and starry-eyed mystics can get away with functioning on the outer edges of Chronos. The rest of us live in the heart of this chronological time that is dominated by clocks and calendars.
Living in Kairos is a little more difficult. And I don’t presume to know how to do it. But I think it involves recognizing the ultimate Kairos moment of the incarnation and seeking to follow the way of the Incarnate One.
I think it involves wrapping our Chronos time around God-centered rhythms of prayer and worship and Sabbath.
I think it involves seeing the person in front of us; listening to the music around us; tasting the food on our tongues; tilting our faces toward the warm rays of sunshine on a cold, windy day.
To borrow the language of the season, I think living in Kairos time involves staying awake—for the Kingdom of God is at hand.