A few years back they remade the iconic 1956 movie, The Ten Commandments. Special effects notwithstanding, 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 hopeful question will be called out again 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 be 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. Without it, you may never arrive anywhere.
Everyone knows about hunger. There is that strange and universal 3 am meditation at the refrigerator door. Figuring out just what we are hungry for is key, and especially at Christmas time we are offered many counterfeits. My wife for example, spends an inordinate amount of time perusing other peoples’ Facebook pages. They are filled with selfies of people at parties, dressed up in spangly outfits and stuffed into age-defying dresses, interspersed with wonderful shots of meals, and family gatherings. My wife is convinced that we are getting cheated. “Everyone is having a better time than we are” she says. My own thought balloon replies… “Don’t these people have jobs, kids, trash to take out and toilets to clean?” Is fun the destination we are seeking? I can’t tell. If so, it seems I too am not having enough of it either. Maybe our perception of other peoples’ time is a misconception?
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 that gave clarity and function to what seemed so boring. Behind it all, something was happening, even though it seemed to be happening very slowly. When the court sketches were featured on the news together with a soundbite crystallizing the meaning within a few short seconds of revelation, it was a bit of an illusion. People would come up and say “WOW, YOU WERE THERE!!!!!!” It makes me smile, that there was a buried purpose within all that in-between that was not very apparent in the waiting.
Christian eschatology, the study of end times, tells us that there is some revelaton in life that we simply cannot see at present. In the story of the Exodus the divine and temporal orders meet. Time is a story with a beginning, middle and an end - with a distant purpose which is transcendent. You finally get both wishes. You get somewhere and it lends meaning to the journey, even when it might not seem so fun.
The Exodus is a story of Moses’ own sense of vision for a destination he could not yet see, and that it 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, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. 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 a necessary 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 for the final part of the Exodus story and even though I have skipped ahead to the last chapter, it has not ruined the story for me . “And I heard a great voice out of heaven 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?