Advent as “God's time'

December 12, 2014
Susie Guenther Loewen |

Time. We never seem to have enough of it, and yet it dominates us, ruling our days and how we view and spend our hours, even our very lives.

Time was Professor John Swinton’s theme when he spoke a couple of months ago at Canadian Mennonite University’s J.J. Thiessen lectures (you can watch them here: He talked about how there are two different understandings of time. One is time as viewed in our capitalist culture, something with economic value as in an hourly wage, perhaps best summarized by the phrase “time is money.” This kind of time is all about efficiency and progress; it’s a kind of restless time ruled by the clock. He called this the “fallen” understanding of time, the kind of time which is “tyrannical” and excludes, for instance, people with disabilities and the elderly, because they cannot keep up with its unsustainable pace.

And the other, he called God’s time. This kind of time is slow, personal, providential. In the Bible, we’re told that God loves, rests, and waits, and that “Love takes time.” He talked about how God was patient with Moses, even though Moses was “slow of speech,” and that God incarnate as a human being walked slowly at 3 miles an hour, the average human walking pace. In this way, he argued, people with disabilities can remind the rest of us of several things: what time is really for – namely, gentleness and patience; that time is a gift we receive from God and share with one another; that God commands us to “sanctified rest and inaction” on the Sabbath; that “bodies take time and time takes our bodies.” With these realizations, those with disabilities and the "able-bodied" together become “friends of time.”

While I was listening to Prof. Swinton’s lectures, I couldn’t help relating these two contrasting understandings of time to the different gender expectations around time. Historically, when the spheres of women’s and men’s work were more starkly separated, men were more familiar with the efficiency-oriented understanding of time, since they operated their daily lives in the “real world” of work outside the home. Women, on the other hand, were expected to “waste” their time on the care of children, the elderly, and those with disabilities – something more akin to the slow, Godly, time of love. Though many have and continue to look down on this latter understanding of time, here Prof. Swinton was turning our usual expectations on their heads. Now, I am not saying that this understanding of time comes more “naturally” to women or is primarily their domain. Instead, I saw an affirmation of the value of what has primarily been women’s experience in Prof. Swinton’s ideas about "God's time," but applied and deemed relevant to the calling of all Christians.

During Advent, of course, we as Christians have a particular and peculiar relationship to time. For four weeks, we wait for something which happened two thousand years ago; we mark the passing of the weeks by lighting candles until the past slowly recurs among us and within us; we gather in the darkest time of the year to sing and read and talk about the Light of the World, who was before the world came to be. And who is our guide and role model for this kind of loving, expectant waiting? It’s not the child Jesus, who has not yet been born. Rather, it’s his mother Mary, the young, pregnant peasant woman, waiting with us for her child to be born, trusting in God’s unexpected ways, and knowing deeply what it means to say that “Love takes time.” As we move deeper into Advent, I invite you to ponder what it means to understand Advent as an affirmation of a young woman's experience of - and faith in - God's time, which chooses love over efficiency every time.  

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