Minister’s Reflection – Nov. 28/19
Rev. Dave Crawford
“Time in a Bottle”
Well, my friends, Advent is almost here! A glorious Christmas tree adorns the sanctuary, new worship banners have been hung. It’s finally time – time to sing a few Christmas carols at church! Mixed in with a few Advent hymns will be some well-known carols, and as each Sunday of Advent arrives we’ll sing fewer Advent hymns and more carols! For most, this is good news, and some of you may wonder why we don’t just launch into all the carols right away – why the wait anyway? The rest of society is into Christmas already, why not us?
The clergy guy response? It’s all about “time”, church time, the time of the church seasons. It’s about waiting, patience, contemplation of the joy to come. In some ways it has to do with what our Advent waiting symbolizes about waiting for a Savior, sometimes in life waiting for God. As you know Advent means “arrival” and Christmas hasn’t arrived yet so liturgically we don’t celebrate it yet.
At least that’s the clergy perspective, the seminary-trained perspective. You may also know that most Anglican churches, pretty much all Roman Catholic churches, won’t go near Christmas carols till Dec. 24th late in the evening. That’s my experience anyway.
The Apostle Paul addressed time in Romans chapter thirteen, which is one of our readings this Sunday: “Besides this, you know what time it is… how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near… Instead, put on the Lord Jesus…” Really? Paul assumes you know the “time”. Do you? Is he right?
We’re not absolutely clear on the exact situation for Christians in Rome in Paul’s time, about 56 A.D. or the Common Era. The Letter to the Romans was the only letter Paul wrote to a church he had neither established nor visited. Scholars think he may have been writing in preparation for his eventual visit. A different reason for the letter may have been to resolve some tension among Roman Christians, between those from a Gentile background and those from a Jewish background. Nevertheless he asserts: “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment to wake from sleep…, and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” To reduce this brief text even further, let’s put it in its simplest form: “It’s time; Wake up; Put on Christ.”
When I was a teenager I got hooked on the songs of Jim Croce, who was actually a bit before my time, really. I think I heard a couple of songs on the radio: “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim”. Then one day I heard one of his ballads, a love song which became a # 1 hit in the U.S., “Time in a Bottle”. “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do – is to treasure each day till eternity passes away, just to spend it with you… If I could make days last forever, …” Wonderfully creative lyrics, touching words. A song probably heard at a lot of weddings in the 70’s. Time – in a bottle. If only!
Sadly, though, the increasingly grey hairs in my beard and the loss of hair from my head remind me it’s not gonna happen. The rapidly changing social mores of our culture and the constantly shifting sands of international politics proclaim that time, as the old adage goes, won’t stand still. All is in constant flux. As the 80’s band “The Pretenders” sang, “time is the great avenger”. We can’t save time in a bottle or a computer file. What then can we do with time? What about the time we’re given in this life? What about our time? Yet perhaps the assumption behind these questions is wrong, and maybe that’s what Paul is getting at today — the notion that time is ours, that our time is indeed our time!? “You know what time it is”. It’s time, yes, but it may not be our time, something we possess, own, contain.
Millard Fuller is a name you may recognize. He realized a long time ago that time was not his, that with time came responsibility and opportunity. He knew what time it was when he established Habitat for Humanity back in 1976. An accomplished academic, lawyer and businessman, Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29. Yet in his mid-30’s he felt the tug of God to redirect his time and energies. Low income, affordable homes for those who most needed them became his calling in life, became the main focus of his time. Fuller, in essence, woke from his sleep, his preoccupation with self and success, and turned to his faith, he put on Christ. To date over 300,000 homes in 92 nations have been constructed through Habitat for Humanity.
On December 1st we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. We mark the beginning of a new church year. We do it every year and in doing so we’re ahead of the rest of society by about a month. Yet perhaps there’s intentionality behind this ancient way of marking time. The church may be out of step with the way society measures things because God chooses to be out of step with the way the world often measures things, including time. Advent may be a yearly reminder that at any moment, your time could become God’s time. The time that you thought was your own, to live as you please, is in reality God’s.
“It’s time; Wake up; Put on Christ.”
Grace and Peace