Remember how Christmas Eve was always the longest day of the year? Technically, it is one of the shortest, but it felt so long. I remember planning a full day’s worth of activities (mostly of the building-with-Legos variety) just so the day would go by faster. Now, the clock on the wall had no idea it was Christmas Eve. The minutes ticked by as they normally do. But the anticipation of Christmas morning made me think the clock was conspiring against me.
In Greek, there are two major words for time. The first is chronos, which tends to be the word used for the time of day, or clock time. The second is a special word. Kairos is the kind of time that starts an old Disney fairy tale movie, “Once upon a time.” This special sort of time is Christmas Eve time, expectant time, the kind of time in which promises exist. It is time mixed somehow with eternity, which still slips away but in no predictable way—time that will come when it needs to.
Put another way, chronos is soccer game time, which ticks away even when the ball is out of bounds or a player is injured. The referees add extra time to make up for that lost during the game, but it always continues to tick. Kairos, on the other hand, is baseball game time. There is no limit to how long a baseball game can last: innings take as long as they need to. Kairos is the kind of time the song from Rent talks about—it is measured in cups of coffee and report cards and sunsets and love.
When Jesus says to his brothers, “My time has not yet come,” he uses this special word. Within the Gospel, Jesus lives in kairos, which is understandable considering where he comes from. In my walk with Jesus, I find I have trouble living in this kind of time. Contemporary society jackhammers into me over and over again the supposed benefits of an instantaneous world. And there are definitely real benefits, don’t get me wrong. But 0.14 second Google searches and overnight FedEx and cholesterol reducing pills can blind me to the ultimate reality that most good things are worth waiting for, are worth working for, are worth anticipating.
Jesus’ statement, “My time has not yet come,” reminds me constantly that Jesus doesn’t work on my timetable. He doesn’t clock in and out, with hours well documented on a punch card. He doesn’t respond to my prayers like Google does to my searches. But he does call me to slow down and experience the kind of time measured by the sun’s slow movement across the sky. He does ask me to anticipate his movement in my life with all the fervor of my childhood Christmas Eves. And he does offer me the faith to know that all prayers are answered one way or another.
If you are like me and need help keeping in touch with kairos in our instantaneous world, then try this. Sit down and take several deep breaths. Close your eyes and turn your attention inward. Keep breathing slowly, deeply. Without using your hand, see if you can feel your heart beating against your chest. Feel it? Dull squeezes to the left of your sternum. Small thumps against your ribcage. TUB-thp, TUB-thp, TUB-thp. This is where the rhythm of Jesus’ time resides in us. This is kairos.