The weeks leading up to Christmas are a time of expectant waiting. It is intended to be a time of spiritual preparation for the arrival of the baby Jesus. As we all know, the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas often ends up being a stressful time of shopping and social obligations. Chronological time seemingly speeds up daily with ever more to do before the 25th.
But I've come to consider a different kind of time at a Christian Ed class I attended at our excellent church. It is (in Greek) "kairos" which differs from the more usual word for time which is chronos. "In the New Testament kairos means 'the appointed time in the purpose of God', the time when God acts." Visually, I imagine it as a more circular time that (re)turns back in on itself rather than the more straight line time that we are used to. The Advent season including Christmas is a terrific example of kairos – a special time that God set aside filled with wonderful memories. Each year we long to recreate the warmth of childhood with hand-me-down decorations and traditions. For many, it is a safe place that we long to return to every December.
Besides the fond holiday memories, I've had a very different kind of kairos replay in the past couple of weeks. I have been remembering the bittersweet sequence from seeming perfect health to a cancer diagnosis and then ultimately a lifesaving surgery a year ago. Unfortunately, this year's experience is about much more than commemorating my happy anniversary. I am vicariously reliving the surreal progression from a distance as two dear cousins grapple with their own cancers. It is certainly a case of kairos – "of God’s purposes intersecting and overruling this finite world of chronological time."
At a Blue Christmas service this past Sunday night, I was struck again by the difficulty of kairos time. It is, for me, the most difficult challenge that God places before us – to submit gracefully to his timing for us. For instance, I wrestle with the unpleasant kairos possibility of a recurrence of my own cancer. It's a situation where I want time to be straight-arrow linear away from the days when cancer was growing inside of me. Just as God gives us life and health and abilities and wealth – God also gives us disease. Inexplicably (to us), he gives us tragedy. And the very best we can do in response- maybe the only and most impossible thing – is to submit gracefully to his timing and purposes.
The appointed time of Jesus' birth is a convergence of the sacred and the secular, of celebration and consumerism, of kairos and chronos. And each of those both invites and challenges us. May God be with you this season as you wait for the Christmas cookies to come out of the oven, for critical test results, or the presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Take a moment to remember what the meaning of Christmas is and submit gracefully to his timing.