It is almost Advent season again. And, honestly, it feels like we were just here. I read recently a sentence attributed to Fran Lebowitz where she commented that in adulthood, Christmas seems to come every five minutes. For some reason, that feels more true this year than any year previous for me. Like it was just minutes ago that I was taking down the lights. And in one more minute it will be time to buy another tree. Time seems to be whizzing past me. Years are starting to become a blur.
I’ve been reading a marvelous book by Jim Holt titled When Einstein Walked with Gödel. It is a compilation of all these essays on the bizarre nature of quantum physics as well as the even more bizarre natures of each one of the physicists themselves. It is clever and witty and insightful. But it also serves as a jarring reminder how often we take appearances for granted. That time itself is much more illusory than we’d like to admit. And that the present moment is different for each one of us depending on where we stand, how fast we’re moving, and of course, gravity.
Holt talks about how it has been estimated that “by the age of eight, one has subjectively lived two-thirds of one’s life.” How’s that for depressing? The stimulus of the new is so often what draws us into the present moment. And familiarity causes our memories to bleed together. Our brains look for common occurrences and store them as one file. The details and moments of our lives become more and more inseparable. Our life, our story, starts to become one objective reality instead of how it initially felt, as a sequence of moments advancing over time.
And physics would affirm this. That it is actually a more true glimpse of our lives to see it as happening all at once. That we exist much more as a whole. That our life simply is, and does not merely happen.
According to this view, “the only objective way to see the universe is as God sees it: sub specie aeternitatis.” It is only seen properly from eternity. From heaven. Or maybe, also, from the center of a black hole.
That idea of time can feel a bit disconcerting to me. There is something I prefer about the thought that God is observing my life, rooting for me, and hoping I do my very best. But this isn’t the case. He’s seen it all, start to finish. As one single event. The alpha and omega. The beginning and the end.
Which means that every word or gesture we receive from God is not only spoken in light of my current circumstances, but serves as a final word of his love. In other words, God’s acts of goodness and love in my life aren’t based on his hopes of some perfect future ahead of me where, from here on out, I make only good decisions. No, he knows the whole story of Jeff already. And when God shows up in my life with a moment of love and blessing, it is done in light of my whole story. A God that already knows the outcome. And reaches back into the middle of my story to tell me not only that He loves me today, but will never feel otherwise.
Which is why the message of Advent is so important. It isn’t simply an important season of the year for me to ponder the birth of Christ. Instead, it is the lens through which I look at all of life. That Jesus comes to earth as a statement of finality. And the angels declare peace on earth. It has happened. This is where the story ends (I can’t help but hear Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays singing those words as I write them.)
And I cling to that truth. In a world filled with fires and vitriol, bitterness and division. Where there is unending news of suffering, there is also promise. And that promise empowers me. To not react to calamity with anxiety and fear. To not lash back at anger with anger. To rest in the hope of the promise of peace. Not passively. Not detached. But with a non-anxious presence and secure trust and hope that manifests itself in freedom and love. That is the gift that advent brings. The promise of peace on earth. Not as an ideal, but as a firm reality that we can live our way into with assurance.