Sunday, 27 November 2011
1st Sunday of Advent, Year B, Shaftesbury
If you've been following the news, and in particular if you are a follower of science, you will probably noticed a big controversy recently. Supposedly, scientists have sent a little particle called a neutrino travelling at faster than the speed of light, which is something that Einstein and his theory of relativity said wasn't possible.
I've heard it said that there are only three people in the world who understand the theory of relativity, I’m not one of the three, so please don't expect me to explain it to you today! However, I do want to offer you a reflection on the question of time, particularly as it relates to Advent. The theory of relativity, if I remember it correctly, states that every measurement of time is relative, depending on the position of the observer, and in particular depending on the velocity an observer is moving at relative to another observer. Philosophically, this raises the question of whether there is really such a thing as universal time at all, and philosophers have tied themselves in knots about this ever since Einstein.
What, however, does this have to do with you and me, and Advent?
Advent is a season of the Church's year, more than any other time of the year, when we think about TIME: we think about the past and the future and how they affect us in the present. We think about how, in the past, there was a preparation for the first coming of Jesus in His birth. We think about the future, about how Christ will come the second time in glory, as we heard Him referring to in our gospel passage today (Mk 13:33-37). And, we think about how this affects the present, in how we need to make Christ present here today.
Many philosophers have remarked about how Christianity, more than any other religion, has a linear notion of time, of there being the connection between the past and the future, of there being a direction, a linear direction, a goal to which all of creation is heading, namely, the time of the Second Coming of Christ, what we heard St Paul refer to as "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ"(I Cor 1:9).
If what Christ claims is true, namely, that the cosmos was created through Him, that it was created in order that He might enter it, that His first coming was prepared for in a particular way in the events of the Old Testament, and, that all of creation awaits with eager longing for His Second Coming in glory. If this is true, then the point with respect to which all time is relative is Christ.
So, what gives meaning to my life in the present, what gives meaning to my experience of time today, is my relationship to Christ. In particular, my relationship to how His first coming is being made effective in my life, effective in my life in my reception in His sacraments, effective in my life in my living Divine charity, effective in my life in such a way that my life is a preparation for my being ready for His Second Coming. How I live in relationship to the past and the future gives meaning to my today.
Let me explain this with a simple illustration. Many children are already counting the days until Christmas. Many of these children are yearning not so much Christ but for the presents under the tree. The whole of December can be a state of longing for those Christmas presents. But there are two ways that a child can be excited about Christmas presents. There is a type of OVER-excitement that are so focused on Christmas that they fail to enjoy today, and that obviously would be a loss. But there can be another type of excitement where the anticipation of Christmas brings a whole season of joy and expectation that gives greater meaning to the days preparing for Christmas. That manner, of expectation of the future changing how we live in the present, is exactly how we are supposed to make the Second Coming change how we adults live our present every day.
To come back to where I began: I don't know whether a neutrino really has travelled faster than the speed of light, I don't know whether Einstein's theory of relativity has been disproven. But even if all time is relative at the subatomic level, at the cosmic level there is such a thing as a universal measure of time, because there is one event that all time is measured in relation to, and that event is the coming of Christ. And it is the preparation of that event that this season of Advent aims to bring about.