Upon the Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and I’m experiencing the whole season in a new way this year. I’ve always equated Advent with Christmas. For the last few years, as the minister of a church, I urged us to celebrate Advent beginning on the first Sunday in December. This celebration included decorating the church building with Christmas trees and wreaths, and singing Christmas carols every Sunday in worship for four weeks. It was certainly a wonderful thing after growing up in a tradition that never celebrated Christmas at all.
Last Sunday, I was at All Saints on the first Sunday of Advent, and I noticed that I did not recognize any of the Advent carols. I was almost angry that we didn’t sing any familiar song other than “O Come, O Come Emannuel.” Not one Christmas decoration was to be found. I thought that maybe the Church of Christ was more Anglican than I knew. Then that evening was the Lessons and Carols service, and I fully expected to sing my Christmas favorites. But they were missing. It was a solemn and quiet service of longing, waiting and desperation.
Then today the sermon was from the preaching of John the Baptist, in which he tells the people to repent. “Repent and be baptized” was the only message I had ever heard from the Baptist prior to today, but I heard words I had never really heard in his wilderness sermon today. Luke writes that the Baptist said that preparing for the coming of Jesus meant doing justice in the world, to treat others fairly, and not to rob the poor. Not exactly the message of joy, peace and angels singing. Advent is a radical season in which we learn to live by new rules and to prepare for the realization of God’s future in our lives through repentance and difficult waiting.
So I asked a minister there today why we were not singing Christmas carols during Advent. She responded, “Advent is not the experience of Christmas, but rather the waiting for Christmas to come. We will not sing Christmas carols until Christmas.” Wow. The experience of longing to sing a Christmas song is the exact experience we are supposed to feel during Advent, and it’s come to give me theological framing for all the areas of my life where I’ve been waiting for God to act. I had missed this whole season by rushing ahead to Christmas, but life rarely matches Christmas. It’s more often a great deal of longing and waiting.
And so my estranged friend, the one that I have too often envied, accidentally sat behind me this morning. During Communion, he leaned towards my pew and gave me a hug, and said, “Peace to you.” And I knew again the real effect of the body and blood of Christ which was given not only to reconcile our relationship with God, but with each other.
So that’s the second Sunday in Advent in 2006. I can’t wait to sing “Joy to the World” but on this cold, cloudy day in Los Angeles, a day in which I’ve been reminded again of being alone after being with several couples all weekend, I was glad that there’s a season of waiting too.
“O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice!Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
3 Responses to “Upon the Second Sunday of Advent”
  1. Sheila says:

    Thanks for this. (I found your blog via Greg KB’s. A lifetime “CofCer” who has been immersed in Anglican ways for most of the past decade, I am happy to find a kindred spirit.

    When you spend Advent reading the scriptures of the lectionary, it is a completely different experience from that of decorating, ho-ho-ho-ing, and shopping. I think I may come across as a grinch to some because I resist decorating until closer to Christmas, and I’m perfectly comfortable sending Christmas cards anytime during the 12 days of Christmas rather than getting stressed out ahead of time.

    And I hadn’t made the connection till reading your words, but I wonder if the Advent readings are behind my growing urge to stop giving Christmas presents per se and just make donations to the Heifer project in honor of all the people I love?

    I pray that your Advent season be a blessed one.

  2. Harry says:

    I too found your blog via Greg’s. We are not too good at waiting, and we’ve become adept at not having to wait. I guess we haven’t really grown up and become mature until we learn how. Until then, we’ll still be little children clamoring for candy at the check-out line.

  3. Brice says:

    Another from GKB… Thanks, Todd.

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