Thinnest of places

Did you know that a “new year” begins with Advent? We begin a new liturgical year, a year when most of the gospels will be from the Gospel of Luke (referred to as “Year C”). While the years and readings change, there are constants with the arrival of Advent.

Advent is a time when we commemorate the adventus of Jesus — his coming, arrival, or birth into the days and nights of our world. Christians live in normal time just like everyone else — our normal chronos as time ticks off the days, weeks, months, and years. The early Christian thinkers held that God lives in kairos, a “time” when past, present, and future are but a single moment. The awesome moments of salvation history are when chronos and kairos meet.

The birth of Jesus was just such a moment. The Son of God, the Word made flesh, who existed before all. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-4).

It is a moment when the Divine broke into chronos from Kairos, when God came to be with us and experience everything about our lives except sin. Mary gave birth not just to any baby boy, but to the Lord of all time and history. A baby boy that matured, “And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52).

After living in total obscurity for about 30 years, Jesus burst onto the public scene and proclaimed that in his own person: “This is the kairos [time] of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). St. Paul writes that in “the fullness of kairos [time], God sent forth his son” to redeem humanity (Galatians 4:4). Jesus, creation, and the beginning of time met redemption and the fulfillment of time at Bethlehem’s midpoint of human history.

The British poet U.A. Fanthorpe captures the unremarkable circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, and of how kairos invades chronos. All time and history, says Fanthorpe, are now marked by the before and after of the baby Jesus.

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven

During Advent, Christians begin to anticipate that ordinary night as the most extraordinary juncture in human history, for on that night “God was reconciling the cosmos [world] to Himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). It was a night when eternity invaded time, when the sacred embraced the worldly.

At Advent, Christians also look forward in expectation of Christ’s future coming, to that time when God will culminate what he has now only inaugurated, when he will finish what he has started, and will fulfill what he has promised. For believers, history is going somewhere and not nowhere. Chronos is proceeding in a distinctly “ahead” fashion, rather than in a cyclical or meaningless manner. It is engaged and fueled by the gravity of karios pulling us into a promised future.

At Advent we connect these two horizons — celebrating Jesus’s past birth and expectation of his future coming. We live our present days in light of that future day. In between, we are called to live at the intersection of kairos and chronos. What the Celts called the “thin places,” places where the boundary between the earthly and the eternal becomes permeable. A place and time when we catch glimpses of God’s love, majesty, and power as it pours into the world.

Advent is a season to consider the thinnest of places.

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