The fullness of time

At the carol services in the Cathedral I have been preaching this message.  I share it with you here.  Have a very happy Christmas.

What is it that you’re hoping for this Christmas?  What would you really like to find at the bottom of your stocking? All year I’ve been thinking about buying one of those really smart watches, you know the ones, that tell you everything, including the time – and then I look at the price and think, really? Are you going to pay that much for a watch?  But if someone were to buy me one, well, then all that indecision would be over!


You see, unlike it seems many people nowadays, I love having a watch on my wrist, I need to know exactly what time it is.  My life is governed by time, the time of services, the time of meetings, the time of trains, the time of meals.  I keep looking at the clock.

So I was delighted when a new exhibition opened at Tate Modern in September, called simply ‘The Clock’.  The artist, Christian Marclay, has created a 24 hour long film every minute of which shows a clip of another film which includes, somewhere, a clock, showing the exact time that you’re sat there watching it.  It really does take clockwatching to the level of an art form and, for someone like me, compulsive viewing.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time – chronos and kairos.  Chronos is sequential time, the sort of time that clocks and watches record, the time that tick-tocks through the day.  But kairos is another kind of time, it’s the opportune time, the right time, that moment which is the moment when something can happen – and however smart your watch is it can’t tell kairos it can only tell chronos.

The writers of the New Testament wrote in Greek and so they use both of these words when they’re talking about time and what we’re here to celebrate, the birth of Jesus, took place at both of these times.

In St Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia he says something wonderful, that God sent his Son

‘when the fullness of time had come’ (Galatians 4.4)

and the word he uses for time is chronos.

You see, if someone in Bethlehem had been watching the clock that busy night when the inns were full and the streets were chocked with people still arriving, if someone had been watching the clock they’d have noticed the time that they heard a baby cry.  Someone could have asked them – ‘When did you hear it?’  ‘Just past midnight, I heard a cry, from that stable over there’.

The thing that’s so wonderful is that at Christmas God enters time, our time, the Lord of time and eternity, the ancient of days, enters into what time means, joins in the tick tock of life.  Jesus is born in real time, to share our real time.  It was the fullness of time, the pregnant moment, the ripe moment – it was a kairos moment – the very right time, in a chronos moment, our time.

The clock is always ticking. But Jesus was born at the right time and Jesus continues to be born in our time – because he transcends time.  And whatever is happening in your life right now, whatever is happening in our communities right now, whatever is happening in our national life right now, whatever is happening in the world right now, Jesus is there because he enters into the clockwatching world and inhabits the present moment with us.

That for me is good news and worth singing a carol or two about.

Lord Jesus,
may I recognise you in the now of my life
born for time
living for eternity.


Clock watching

I am amazed that so many younger people (do I call them Millennials?) no longer wear a watch! How do they survive I ask myself.  Perhaps they look at their phone, perhaps they don’t bother.  But I’m always looking at my wrist, what’s the time, how long till, how much time have I got left, how much longer?

Hall Clock

My hall clock

So I was intrigued to be invited last week to a private view of a new installation at the Tate Modern called ‘The Clock’ by Christian Marclay.  It opened to the public this weekend and it will be fascinating to see the reaction.  As I sat there in the auditorium I thought that this would be a perfect place to bring Lord Cut-Glass from Dylan Thomas’ play ‘Under Milk Wood’ whose constant refrain is ‘Tick-tock; tick-tock’.

Lord Cut-Glass, in his kitchen full of time … listens to the voices of his sixty-six clocks, one for each year of his loony age, and watches, with love, their black-and-white moony loudlipped faces tocking the earth away: slow clocks, quick clocks, pendulumed heart-knocks, china, alarm, grandfather, cuckoo; clocks shaped like Noah’s whirring Ark, clocks that bicker in marble ships, clocks in the wombs of glass women, hourglass chimers,
tu-wit-tu-woo clocks, clocks that pluck tunes, Vesuvius clocks all black bells and lava, Niagara clocks that cataract their ticks, old time-weeping clocks with ebony beards, clocks with no hands for ever drumming out time without ever knowing what time it is. 

‘The Clock’ is brilliant – a 24 hour long filmed composed of clips from films, each clip showing a clock.  The clever thing is that the clock you see is exactly the right time for now, it is an installation in real time. So you get clips from every kind of film, some familiar, some not but each one with a clock somewhere showing 9.45, 9.46, 9.47, and so on as the minutes tick by.  You don’t need your watch as you sit there, clock watching, because the real time is always before you.

The Clock

I loved the cleverness and the simplicity and the fact that my life is so much clock-watching.  The Tate have a few 24 hour openings during the time that the installation is in place, so that, if you had the time and the will, you could sit there and watch the clock, all day.  And even if I couldn’t do that I would love to see what kind of films have a scene with a clock displaying the time 5.24am!

Students of New Testament Greek, learn that whilst there are four words for our one word ‘love’ there are two words for ‘time’ – kairos and chronos. Chronos is what you are watching when you sit in the Tate Modern glued to the clock.  It is sequential time, seconds, minutes, hours.  But kairos is the opportune time, the right time.  It was a kairos moment when a baby’s cry was heard from within a stable in Bethlehem. As St Paul says to the Galatians

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.‘ (Galatians 4.4)

But Paul here cleverly balances the right time with the use of the word chronos for time.  It wasn’t just the ‘fullness’ of time, as some translations have it, it was real, sequential time, measured time, into which Jesus enters.  Yet it remains at heart a kairos moment in chronos.

We kill time, we waste time, we lose time, we do all kinds of things to time, but God enters time and resets the clock.  If you are around London before the 20 January I encourage you to go and spend some time, watching the clock, in the experience of chronos there could be kairos.

Lord of time and of eternity,
bless the now moment of today
as you bless the forever moment of tomorrow.

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In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


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Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark