Advent 2C 2003 Luke 3:1-6
Did you know that Advent was originally six weeks long and that it was originally a season of preparation for Epiphany?
The Latin roots of the word Advent mean to come, to go toward. And the Coming it marked was not the coming of Christmas but
the Second Coming of Christ. It still hasn't lost that sense of the word entirely, as the scriptures appointed for the Advent
season still carry much of that message. It wasn't until the Fourth Century that Church officially declared December 25th
to be the birthday of Jesus that Advent began to take on its current form and focus. Before that time, as preparation for
Epiphany and the major events of Jesus life, beginning with his baptism, Christians focused mainly on Easter and the Second
But for over a thousand years -- a millennium -- the Advent season has increased its focus on the first coming, not just
the Nativity of Christmas but of the time Jesus appears as an adult and begins his work on earth among the people of that
time and place. The Advent focus is now on the coming of the Light into the world.
Herbert O'Driscoll is the great Canadian priest and lecturer at the College of Preachers on the grounds of the National
Cathedral. He tells this Advent story about his uncle:
"As World War II was ending, my uncle was about to be discharged from the Royal Navy. He decided to enjoy an evening
out, and bought a ticket to see a play in London. It was opening night of a new show. He told me that he was not quite sure
what the show was about, but had heard that it was a musical--an American musical. He also said that he didn't really care
what he was going to see. All he wanted was to celebrate the fact that he had lived through a war and would be going home
"The first thing he noticed when he entered the theater foyer was the brilliance of the lights. For six years
he -- and members of his generation -- had had to get used to muted lighting, and sometimes to no lighting. Now, at least
in this warm, welcoming and crowded space, the world was suddenly bright again. Another thing he noticed was how alive and
excited everyone was, and to his surprise he realized that their festive mood was affecting him, and that he felt the same
"But nothing prepared him for what happened when the curtain went up. The stage blazed with the light of a sunlit
world stretching into infinite distances. The dancers and actors positively leaped onto the stage. The music was electrifying.
The words, especially the very first words of the show, transformed every listener.
O what a beautiful morning! O what a wonderful day! I've got a wonderful feeling Everything's
going my way.
"And now we know what my long-ago uncle and those other people were experiencing. "Oklahoma" burst into
the dark world of Europe like a sudden blaze of sunshine, space, energy, hope and possibility. It came from a land not exhausted
by war, a land still strong, with almost infinite resources. It sang a song of the future."
John the Baptizer sets the tone for this Second Sunday in Advent and indeed for the whole Advent season. He calls us
to prepare for the coming of the Lord, for the coming of the holy light of God, of the shining star over the manger in Bethlehem,
of the coming of the Christ child into the world. John uses the prophet Isaiah to sing a song of the future, of a new creation
of the universe, an event after which the world will never be the same.
The preparation for the Christmas event involves waiting and watching. Waiting and watching: something that most of
us Martha types are not very good at doing.
Like many of us here in this parish I was not a cradle Episcopalian. My childhood was spent during World War II in the
Southern Baptist household of my Toccoa, Georgia, Scott grandparents, the Greer, South Carolina, Methodist household of my
Dillard grandmother, and the Greer Presbyterian household of my parents. In those days in the South liturgical seasons were
unheard of among Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. That there was an Episcopal church in Toccoa I did not discover
until the 1970s, by which time I had long been an Episcopalian.
But as a child I did a lot of waiting and watching during what I now know as Advent. Childlike it was focused on Christmas
specifically the arrival of Santa Clause, to be honest about it. I did most of my waiting trying to be good and avoid switches
and coals under the tree. I was more successful at avoiding the switches and coals than I was at being good. And I did most
of my watching in dime stores and department store windows looking at toys. In those days electric trains were more a symbol
to me of this time of year than Advent wreaths. Perhaps I am the only one here who was that waybut I don't think so.
After I learned the truth about Santa Clause a lot of excitement went out of the season until my own children were born.
I am glad to have the stately liturgies of Advent and the solemn preparation, the different sort of waiting and watching,
that goes with hearing the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord. A voice that demands changed
hearts and lives, that demands us to change the world in which we live.
Most of us have read Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and many of us have seen the various film versions.
The best is the old classic black and white one. What takes place in the story -- what happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge --
is not really a Christmas story -- it's an Advent story. It's about a changed heart now set to help prepare the way of the
Remember how Scrooge was approached by two men soliciting money for the poor. And Scrooge turned them away snarling something
about "Are there no prisons? Are there no work houses?" These words were thrown back in Scrooges face by the
Ghost of Christmas present when the spirit showed him two children beneath its robe, a boy and a girl who were, wrote Dickens,
"wretched, frightful, hideous, miserable....Yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their
"Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and
shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds.
"Where angels might have been enthroned , devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no
perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread."
Appalled and choking on his words, Scrooge cried out, "Spirit, are they yours?"
"They are Man's," said the Spirit. "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and
all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy."
"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.
"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there
And the bell struck twelve midnight. Scrooge, "lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn phantom, draped and hooded,
coming, like a mist along the ground, toward him."
When Scrooge awakes after his time with the three Christmas Spirits, he awakes in the morning thoroughly changed. "I
don't know what day of the month it is!" said Scrooge. "I don't know how long I've been among the Spirits. I don't
know anything. I'm quite a baby. Never mind. I don't care. I'd rather be a baby.
And Scrooge became "as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew. Some people
laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing
ever happened on this globe for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter at the outset; and knowing
that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as
have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."
This time of year, this mid point in Advent, is always a very special and significant time for me personally. It was
ten years ago this week that I was ordained priest at National Cathedral. The whole six months from the time I finished Seminary
and was ordained deacon until the thirteenth of December 1993 seemed to last forever. And next Sunday is the tenth anniversary
of the very first time I was able to celebrate communion for you. We're having Morning Prayer next Sunday at 10 -- perhaps
we should change it to Communion instead.
I simply want to say how grateful I am this Advent time for the past ten years here among you, and that I thank God for
it and for all of you.