The fun some people have had with the Mayan calendar predictions of a great catastrophe on December 21st caught imaginations, I’m not sure how many people took the threat seriously but it did spark interest in how an ancient civilization saw the passage of time and its meaning. Perhaps because we are largely conditioned to a daily timetable prolonged by artificial light and a 24 hour clock.
The yearly rhythm in our country is not based on the agricultural cycle of nature, but seems conditioned to several festivals around which a great deal of retail therapy occurs, so we get out of touch with the patterns and passing of other forms of time. How many of us understand the lunar calendar even a little or know when the agricultural year really begins? A few perhaps, but even so there does still remain an instinctive connection to our ancestral computations, such as a delight in midwinter and midsummer and the qualities of the four seasons, underneath it all good old mother earth and the wider bounds of the Creators time and space exert a much deeper role in our lives than we think.
The liturgy is full of different references to time, not only do we compute Easter, our greatest feast, by lunar calendar and link to an agrarian calendar with Pentecost, the Nativity and Theophany/Epiphany cycle which we are just about to start celebrating, sits alongside the winter feasts of light and new birth that long pre-date Christianity. Traditional feastday time begins as the sun sets with first vespers or evening prayer but ends in a more modern 24 hour clock. Even in the scriptures time litters the setting of so much of our prayer and praise about God.
On this last Sunday of Advent, Zephaniah hints at someone to come whose origins go back into the distant past beyond all human reckonings, the Lord, who is born into human time but whose rule and reign will transcend space and time itself. This Lord, as the letter to the Hebrews points out to us, comes to show us that the true sacrifice is to make good use of our time, responding to the call of God, in the true meaning of obedience, by deep listening and careful discerning through the Spirit of the signs of our times, seeing the Lord with us, in us, working through us in creation. That is precisely what we find Mary and Elizabeth doing in Luke’s Gospel, both of them and the quickening life within them respond to the gift of the Holy Spirit. They accept the blessing of God's time, kairos, that moment God really connects with us. Put simply we recognize that now we are blessed for it is time for the Lord to act with us.
Fr Robin Gibbons is an Eastern Rite Chaplain for the Melkite Greek Catholics in Britain.