December 1, 2002
Yogi Berra, the former manager for the New York Yankees, is well known because of his unorthodox remarks and peculiar responses. It is from Yogi Berra that we get the phrase “It ain’t over ’til it’s over!” and “This is like déjà vu all over again.” It is said that on a particular day while he was walking the streets of New York, Yogi Berra was stopped by a stranger who said, “Excuse me sir, do you know what time it is?” Yogi responded, “You mean now?”
Before we become too critical of Yogi Berra’s redundant remark, it might be appropriate for us to remember that time is not as simple as it seems. In fact, there are different ways to understand what time actually is. The Greek language is more sensitive to this issue than is English. In English we have one word for time; but in Greek, which is the language used in the Christian scriptures, there are two words. Each reflects a different concept of what time is. The two words are chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the word from which we get chronology, which is a listing of events and intervals. Chronos is what we might call clock time. Clock time measures things. For example, we could take any interval, say from 8:00 until 8:30 this morning. In that thirty minutes you could decide to dry a load of laundry. In that same interval, three thousand people could die throughout the world, and four thousand people could be born, your thumbnail could grow a fraction of an inch, and a bomb might explode in Jerusalem. All of this in the time in which you dry your laundry. Chronos marks that interval and it does not care about any of the things that happen within it. Chronos is clock time. Tick Tock. Ho Hum.
But there is another kind of time: kairos. Kairos is not clock time. It is the right time, the time when good things happen. Kairos is the time that we are waiting for, the time when all things come together. Kairos is God’s time, the time in which we see God working. We find it difficult to remember chronos time. If I were to ask you what you were doing April 7, 1992, you probably could not remember. But kairos is a time that we remember always–the time we met our spouse, found the courage to forgive an enemy, realized what we wanted to do with our lives, held a child or a grandchild in our arms for the first time, or made a sacrifice which changed ourselves and others. We remember these times because they are kairos. This is the time on which we hang our lives. Kairos does not measure life. It is life. It is not the time we live through. It is time we live for.
Now if we examine our lives, I think that we would all admit that there is a lot more chronos than there is kairos. A lot more clock time than there is the right time. But the good news of today’s gospel is that, whatever proportion we have between these two times does not have to remain as it is. We can choose to have more kairos, more right time in our life. This is why the gospel today keeps telling us, “Be alert! Be awake! Don’t fall asleep!” The gospel believes that there is a right time coming. In the next day, in the next hour, perhaps now, a right moment could arrive. We could meet a person that changes our life. We could hear an idea that shifts our thinking. We could find the courage to do something we never thought we could do.
God is coming, and we do not know when. The last thing we would want to do is miss that moment. This is what Advent is about, why we take these four weeks every year to remind ourselves Christ is coming and we want to be alert when he arrives. Spiritual writers believe that the most important thing about being a disciple of Jesus is not saying prayers or doing good works. It is being attentive, being alert to life. At any moment Christ can come. The next moment could be kairos.
So the next time that you find yourself waiting for time to pass, see if you can shift and start beginning to wait for Christ to come. The next time that you are waiting at a traffic light, or in line, or for retirement, or for me to stop talking, do not treat that time as time you have to live through. Ask yourself; “Is this the time I’ve been waiting for? Could God be in this time, inviting me to thanksgiving, insight, action, laughter, or hope?” You see, time is not all the same. There are moments yet to come that can change our lives, gifts that we will remember forever, invitations that can take our breath way. So be alert! Stay awake! Watch! For Christ is coming! That is the message of Advent — that is knowing the difference between clock time and God’s time.