A few years back they remade the iconic 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments. Of course, the special effects were spectacular, maybe because you can’t beat the epic nature of the subject matter. Whether they did a remake now, or in another ten years is of no matter: humankind rushing around in the desert without seeming to get anywhere is a theme that will always have currency. I like to call it the problem of: “Are we there yet?”. I don’t even have to unravel that theme for everyone to get it. You have embarked on that summer car trip where ten minutes in a voice will chime out from the back, “Are we there yet?”. My stock reply is always “NO, we are HERE”. This never seems to satisfy, and the same question will be repeated in another ten minutes. Are we there yet?
It seems we can neither enjoy here, nor there - either contemplation is equally unsatisfying. Time - it might be God’s strangest gift, because it seems we don’t altogether know what to do with it, and it seems to burden us with inexplicable craving. Having time often translates to a frustration that we are not getting anywhere. We want our time to be punctuated with significant events and arrivals that show that the journey has a definite path and purpose. We want to get there. That, interspersed with the sense that time should about us, here and right now. At least part of our time is spent circling touchstones of our own journey, coming back to familiar points in the path again and again as a way to lend resonance to our understanding. We want our time here to have meaning.
Time… which one is it? Going around in circles, or making a bee-line for a destination? I’m sure the children of Israel did not know either. A revelation would be nice, except that in the story of Exodus, the dynamic intervention of God is all up front, followed by… forty years of wandering. In other words, if you have ever felt like you are rushing around without meaning, purpose or destination - you are not alone.
I can recall waiting for the East Jerusalem bus (otherwise known as the Arab bus), because it was about half the price of the other bus which was run by the Israeli bus system. I saw the bus parked at the curb across from the Old City and I got on, and waited. People were milling about. The bus driver was chatting on the road, smoking with some of his friends. He had one cigarette, then another. Then he walked across to an establishment across the road. (Oh, I thought time for a final pee, that means we are leaving soon). He did not return for a LONG time, and when he did, he pulled out his pack of cigarettes and proceeded to smoke and chat once more. Finally in great impatience, I asked the driver… “When does the bus leave?”. He looked unconcerned while he offered up his flip reply “When it’s time…” he said. “When is it time?” I asked again…. “When it’s time.” he said again and went back to smoking. After what seemed like an age, he got back onto the bus, looked around at me and grinned. “It’s TIME” he said while he put the bus into gear. His lack of urgency did nothing to get us anywhere. I bet his doctor is thrilled with his blood pressure, but in my humble opinion, a little bit of hunger might have been a good thing.
Everyone knows about hunger. It’s that strange universal craving at 3 am in front of the refrigerator door - you are hungry, but you don’t know what you are hungry for. Finding an answer is key, and especially at Christmas we are offered many counterfeits. My wife spends an inordinate amount of time perusing other peoples’ Facebook. They are filled with selfies of parties, spangly outfits, wonderful meals, and family gatherings. My wife is convinced that everyone is having a better time than we are. My own thought balloon… “Don’t these people have jobs, kids, trash to take out and toilets to clean?” Is fun the destination we are seeking? If so, it seems I too am not having enough of it either. Could it be that our perception of events is misleading?
When I was a court sketch artist, time would seem to tick by like paint drying. You would sit in a court where there were endless deliberations and discussions, the judge would retire to chambers and you would be wondering if he too was simply bored and taking time out for a game of solitaire. And yet…your job was to find the story, to connect the dots, because something was happening, even though it seemed to be happening very slowly. When the court sketches were featured on the news together with a short soundbite of revelation, it was an illusion of high drama. People would come up and say “WOW, YOU WERE THERE!!!!!!” It makes me smile, that there was a buried purpose within all that waiting.
Christian eschatology, tells us that there is some revelation in life that we simply cannot see at present. In the story of the Exodus the divine and temporal orders connect. Time has a beginning, middle and an end which finally meet.
The Exodus is Moses’ own story of a destination he could not yet see, that equalled faith. “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11: 27) “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt”. (Hebrews 11: 26) I don’t know if you ever linked Moses and his Exodus mission in one sentence as being about Christ, but the Bible does. If the Bible is a story about God and Mankind, then Exodus is just part of the intro.
All of this, makes me understand a little better, the yearning in my own heart as we approach Advent. We are waiting for the same thing as Moses, for HIM who is invisible. There is a beauty hidden within the Advent period, that lives in the waiting and the hunger. Advent frames our inner longings as part of the journey of faith. We are left with a holy discontent even as we are mindful of the gap between God and man that history has not yet closed.
And so we light our candles, and we wait, savouring that inner longing and wondering at the promise that will be fulfilled, in the “fullness of time”. I too, am waiting. I have skipped ahead to the last chapter, but it has not ruined the story for me . “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21)
God… It is Christmas and I am so hungry. Are we there yet?