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1st Sunday of Advent - November 28, 2021

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Here we are. Can you believe it? First Sunday of Advent and the start of a new year in the Church calendar. Confession: Advent is my favorite season in the Church year. I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but it is. I love the hymns, the prayers, the readings, the biblical characters that visit us, all of it….and last but not least – the candles. I’m a sucker for candles – in all situations. I don’t consider myself especially “high-church” – I just think it’s never a bad time to burn some candles and/or incense. Last Christmas my little brother gave me a big candle, it smells like patchouli and sandalwood. I burn it in my office every day. Deacon Courtney Jones says my office smells like her Highschool art teacher’s classroom. I’m not really sure what she means by that, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

But if you notice something this morning, we don’t just have the first candle of Advent lit. We have another. The Paschal candle by the baptismal font. That’s because in a few moments we get to baptize William Beau Walker – Beau Walker, if that’s not a name for a defensive lineman I don’t what is and the kid already is built like one. Then there will be a third candle lit…the baptismal candle, which will be given immediately after his baptism. So, three candles – which is rather wonderful considering the collect we heard this morning. The first Collect of Advent. For those who might be new to the Episcopal tradition or just might not know – every Sunday a collect is prayed and it is a moment where we as a community of faith collect ourselves and center our hearts and minds on what is to follow. This morning we prayed these words:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal…

The collect is based on a prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, which reaches back to the 8th century, it is the second oldest liturgical book in Western Christianity. Said another way, this morning we are praying the same words that Charlemagne prayed, and St. Boniface, and the Venerable Bede, and St. Cuthbert, and some of the very first Christians in Continental Europe. You see, when we pray in here – we join that company and transcend space and time.

And I love what this Collect is doing with the language.

Cast away darkness – put on light

Mortal life – life immortal

Great humility – glorious majesty.

These contrasting images are drawn from the Scriptures, Romans Chapter 13 so let’s listen to a translation that might help us get to the heart of it all…

Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break…God is putting the finishing touches on the work he began in you…Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter or linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about.

Cast of darkness, put on light

The night is about over, the dawn is about to break

We are being called to pay attention, to not get distracted and forget what we’re to be about. That’s all too easy to do in this season of Advent filled with parties, preparations, obligations, tasks, and checklists. But that’s one of the reasons we come here, and pray centuries old words, and sing hymns, and light candles, and baptize – it helps us to pay attention. Depending on your metaphysics, it awakens that part of you whether you want to call it a soul or a psychological disposition – it helps us to encounter the holy right in front of us…no matter where we are.

The grocery store for instance – you’re signed up to bring drinks, or a dessert, or a side to a party you’re not really looking forward to attending. And there you are wandering beneath mind-altering fluorescent lights, weaving in and out of crowded aisles, ruthlessly subjected to whatever Christmas playlist their corporate office approved and as one song ends you find yourself saying, “Please don’t be Paul McCartney’s Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time…please…” But then it plays “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time.” And your thoughts turn dark, you want to ram your grocery cart with the rickety wheels into the heels of the man in front of you because it’s an express lane and his cart has way more than fifteen items – in fact it is filled, like he’s just trying to rub it in and make a point.

But then, there’s this thing that can happen – you somehow remember a piece of that prayer you heard in church – the one we’ve been saying since the 8th century and even with all the blaring noises surrounding you – you can hear the refrain from that Advent hymn – the one we’ve been singing since the 11th century…Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel…which means “God with us.” And you can experience something rather strange standing in that grocery store line. You can experience this tedious, overly-crowded, annoying, consumer-driven situation as sacred, on fire (to borrow from Teihard De Chardin) with the same stuff that made the stars.

But we have to pay attention. We can’t just loiter and linger through this season. We have to cast off darkness, and put on light.

There used to be an Advent tradition many, many years ago in Normandy. Farmers would send children to run through the fields and orchards at night with torches to drive out the vermin that would damage their crops. I just love that image: children running wildly through the dark, their arms waving fire, holding up the light.

This morning we lit the first candle of Advent…and then we lit the Paschal candle…and then we’re going to light a baptismal candle. But what if they’re not just candles…what if they’re torches?

What if it’s not just a baptismal candle that William Beau Walker will be given this morning? What if it’s his torch… and he alongside all of us are being invited to run through our worlds, casting off darkness, setting things afire with God’s love.

With each candle lit the light will only get brighter and the darkness will shrink back more and more.

William Beau Walker, welcome to the Church.

For all the rest of us, welcome to Advent.


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