“What I see around me would drive me insane, if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word.” — Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain
I am, by my children’s evaluation an analog dad in a digital world. Actually, I still know as much as they do but I just happen to prefer to do thing a bit “analog.” Watches and writing implements are the dead giveaway here. I like old watch faces, two hands, circular faces, preferably without any other distracting dials. I live nowhere close to the ocean and I have no need to know the phases of the moon. I am also a lover of ink pens. Yes, the ones where, periodically, one has to find ones way to a little bottle of ink and replenish ones supply if one wants to keep on writing.
Analog watches and their modern day rival, the digital watch — which has not won the battle for supremacy by any stretch of the imagination — tell time differently. Maybe it is correct to say they mark and define time differently. I can “see” 8:19 on an analog watch even though it is only 8:18. On a digital watches face it is 8:18 right now until, suddenly, 8:19 “befalls” me and the rest of the world staring its digits. I can “see” the time between 8:19 and 8:45, the time I will leave the house this morning. On the digital watch that time span is a concept that is left to my head to interpret and understand. Using an analog watch, I will probably rise, mindful of “space” on the dial, at about 8:40 and get ready. Using the digital little set of numbers in the corner of my computer screen, I will probably notice at 8:43 that, O my, I need to go!
But more about ink pens: It seems somehow efficient that I can sit down at a keyboard and just type away. Convenience rules the day — unless there is a tech problem. The ink pen and its friend the piece of paper have different demands and those demands are not technical emergencies, they are a normal part of the interaction and process of writing. They are the interface between me and the sharing of the thoughts in my head. As I use them, I must always remain “deliberate.”
The pen is also not disposable. The plastic writing stick in my satchel will quit writing one day and that day it will go to the landfill for which it has been destined by design. The fountain pen at my desk will get serviced and brought back to use — yes, I know how to do that. The plastic job is neat and tidy even without care on my part. The fountain pen wants a certain amount of caution be paid.
Advent waits for the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullest. Messiah, Jesus, will bring all things to resolution, to judgment — yes — and to redemption. There is an end in sight. That can be good news. That can be bad news. The end can be anticipated. The end can be dreaded. Its coming can be awaited faithfully. Its coming can be driven from consciousness.
The realities we live in can be treated like a plastic ballpoint pen — disposable and dispensable and therefore of little meaning past the present. They can be tended like an ink pen — carefully and deliberately tended and valued.
Time can be treated as a surprise — a sudden moment that just shows up but has not been awaited. Time can be treated as the slow swing of the hands on the dial — a space anticipated to end in orderly fashion by orderly movement.
There is always the temptation to play off the world of hope against our world, to talk only of the “not yet” or only of the “here and now.” Redemption is always present and also coming as is judgement. (Bethel Declaration) Believers know that they are tending to both worlds at all times. They see the space between now and not yet as if on a watch-dial. They tend the things of life not as disposable but worthy of care though both, steward and creation are finite.
In the words of the Bethel Declaration:
In view of God, all history is history of the end; for He is the end, that is, the cancellation of history. This is why every moment is a last moment for the believer and an incomprehensibly great gift of the patience of God who once more gives room for the decision.
In view of the world, every moment is at the same time end and beginning, result and cause, and therefore a call to shape the future anew. This is why every moment is a gift of the grace of God for the believer which orders the creatureliness, by which he is called to work and act.
Only where both are fully present – the total devotion to the historical moment and the total detachment from it – can the individual as well as the church speak and act rightly.
The end of history is not brought about by human effort, but is established by God in the return of Christ and in his judgment.
This was written into a time when the German government was held hostage to the apocalyptic utopian visions of a mad man while the church was all too happy to speak of the “here and now,” a phrase that actually occurs in the Ansbacher Consultation, the statement of German theologians welcoming the rise of history’s number one bad boy.
To live Christian is to live as a one traveling Advent. We “see” time as a definite space before us that ends in God’s eternity. We are not surprised by its end, the fig tree will give its lesson. (Lk 21:31) We steward creation around us with deliberate care in the memory of the ever lessening space on the dial. We tend it in a state of calm, not being terrorized by the news around us because Faith tells us that at the end we raise our heads to see our salvation. (Lk 21:28) We steward it for the sake of the one who gives every atom, every electron of it and hopes to loose none of it. (Ro 8:19-20)
More important, Faith has no demands on the kingdom that will come. It will receive it as salvation allowing only God to give it shape. It will receive it as God’s doing, as yet unseen and unimagined here on earth but with its blueprint firmly established in the heart of the Holy Trinity. Faith longs for no less than a Kingdom all of God’s design. Its coming will not surprise us but its grace will because it will be the disclosure of the depth of love in the heart of the Almighty.
For now, we pray that we for endurance to see all these things, not falling despair on the way there or surrendering the thirst for God to a sip of the world’s potions that only lead to dissipation and stupor, leaving us too blind to see the King. Our salvation is at hand.