In the lectionary readings for Advent, we look forward to Jesus’ birth by reflecting on the prophecies of his return. The first coming and the second coming are shown to be two acts in the same play, two chapters in the same story. Beginnings and endings have relationships that often go unnoticed. In my sermon this Sunday, I am drawing some inspiration from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. I am reminded of CS Lewis, who points out that the Father, who exists outside of time, must have seen the crucifixion present in the incarnation and birth of the Son. It follows that the 2nd coming, then, was imagined even at the first. In His beginning is our end. As I will tell the saints on Sunday, get ready!
In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die; there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where thefield-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
(TS. Eliot, “East Coker” in Four Quartets)
In the chapter entitled “Friendship” in CS Lewis’ The Four Loves, he has a trenchant observation about the shallowness of so much of our conversation. It occurs in his discussion about male and female friendship, and the difficulty of friendships between those who have little in common. His argument is that someone with little to say will sabotage the conversation of others simply out of selfish discomfort. Instead of real conversation, that person will insist upon,
Talk, by all means; the more of it the better; unceasing cascades of the human voice; not not, please, a subject. The talk must not be about anything. (The Four Loves, [New York: Harcourt Brace 1960], p. 109)
Two thoughts occurred to me after I read this. First, this describes so much of our entertainment these days – TV in particular – that it is almost funny.
Secondly, I’m reminded at how little patience I have for “small talk”. There are times, of course, when we all have to fill a void in a conversation with something akin to cotton candy – weather, sports, gossip, etc. – but perhaps this is symptomatic of something more sinister. That is, despite all our lip-service to being “real” nowadays, there is very little interest in or discussion of the truly real. God, the good life, truth, beauty – these things are left out of what passes for conversation. And if our conversations do not touch on anything that truly matters, it is worth asking whether the hollow relationships on which are based upon such chatter are friendship in any true sense.