“Read not the times, read the eternities….Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.”
Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle
“God does not move quickly,” a wise woman said to me recently. “He moves suddenly.” I have been pondering this idea since receiving it, something the wise woman would likely be glad to know, for she is my spiritual director. I’m meant to ponder our hour-long, once-monthly conversations. There is more to glean than is possible in the time we spend together.
This being the season of Advent, my mind went immediately to the shepherds, those ordinary guys just doing their job. They were likely counting sheep in order to stay awake, not fall asleep. But perhaps some of them were dozing off, their sheep accounted for, no immediate danger in sight. Most of the time, their job was pretty mundane. Sheep are not known for acting in unexpected ways.
The story, as told by Luke in the book he wrote so many centuries ago, goes like this:
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
There’s the word: Suddenly. It’s curious to me that Luke doesn’t position the word at the beginning of his account. He doesn’t use it to startle us into the story of the shepherds in their abiding. Instead he inserts it as a way of ushering in the grand finale – the surprising flash mob of angels who I imagine were singing and dancing and playing their harps and trumpets with gusto.
The angels knew the back story of God’s plans and were on cue for their entrance. The shepherds knew nothing of what was unfolding, except that it was other-worldy, unearthly, not of the times but of the eternities.
I’ve recently finished reading Jeffry Bilbro’s insightful book, Reading The Times (IVP). I was drawn to it because I am, quite honestly, wearied by reading the times and yet I find it hard to control my compulsion to do so. I always loved reading the news in printed newspapers and magazines. Their limited availability controlled my consumption. But now, thanks to our online world, there’s a never-ending stream of news available to me. Instead of helping me make sense of the times we live in, it discourages, confuses and exhausts me.
Bilbro’s book reminded me that I don’t have to live only with the perspective of Chronos, earth’s chronological time. I can consider life through the lens of Kairos, heaven’s divine time. This is time outside of time, a space that opens up on earth to reveal something that is happening beyond human scope.
Bilbro suggests we live in a world where “the mundane events of Chronos now participate in the holy significance of Kairos…the events of our time are all relative to the divine drama of heaven.”
In this Advent season, I am grateful for the perspective of thoughtful people who remind me that there is so much more to know than I can see or comprehend at any given moment. Breakthroughs will come. Sometimes suddenly. I live in hope for that.