Sermon Text: Advent Wreath
It’s the passing of an era here at St. Mark’s.
We have retired our old Advent wreath. It used to hang on a chain from the highest rafters. That wreath was here when I arrived at St. Mark’s. So I blame my predecessor, the rector who served here from 1990 until 1993. I knew him from the diocese, and got along with him okay. So why did he leave this booby trap to kill me?
It was risky to hang it up. You had to fully extend our extension ladder and rest it on the highest rafter, right out in the middle here, away from the wall. Then you had to climb up, holding the chain, and when you got to the top, you had to lift the chain and the wreath with one hand and hook it up there.
I couldn’t let anyone else do anything that dangerous. So for 23 years, I’ve done it.
I’m scared of heights. Partly, I did it to keep my fear in check. Thing is, I’m 23 years older now than when I started at St. Mark’s.
I’ve always promised my wife I’d never do it if I was alone in the building. I would always have a spotter on the floor, ready to call 911, if it was necessary. It was never necessary. I like to think that’s because I’m a real man. My wife, however, just makes a dismissive noise.
So last year when I took it down, my spotter was Judi Laine, a member of the 8:00 congregation. She watched me go up the ladder and lower the wreath and get down safely. Piece of cake. But she said, “You are not doing that any more. I’m talking to Eric.”
Since Eric is her husband, and a warden on the Vestry, I knew I was in trouble. The result was this beautiful new Advent wreath. The Vestry used the Memorial Fund to pay for it. The Memorial Fund holds the financial gifts people give in memory of departed loved ones. So this new wreath is in memory of a lot of people we love.
I’m not saying the old Advent wreath tried to kill me. But it is a possibility.
Something happened in Advent of 2003. It has become part of the lore of our tribe here at St. Mark’s. It was the first Sunday of Advent. I had the honor of baptizing Evan Jacobs. It was a fun day, and I got a little distracted.
During the 10:00 Eucharist, I had my head down and was walking a little too fast. My forehead collided with the old Advent wreath on the chain hanging from the rafters. There was a loud “clunk” sound, and the wreath swung out.
I was momentarily stunned. The entire congregation, even the little kids, went silent. My first thought was “I gotta sit down.” My second thought was, “I gotta say something funny before they call 911.” So we went with that. Once everyone saw I was okay, I was the recipient of some good natured humor, as you can imagine.
The next Sunday, there was a new addition to that Advent wreath. It was this yellow duck. One of my friends wanted me to remember how important it is sometimes to duck.
So now we retired that old Advent wreath, which may, or may not, have been trying to kill me. And we have this beautiful new wreath.
The Advent wreath dates back to ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. That’s the time of year when the sun reaches its southern-most point in the heavens, at least in our northern hemisphere. The days are darkest.
Ancient people longed for the return of the sun’s light, and they sacrificed the use of their wagon wheels and hung them up. They decorated the wheels with candles and greens in their celebration halls. They were waiting for the return of their Sun-god. They remembered the warmth, the light, and the life their Sun-god would bring.
The Christian church adopted this practice, but changed the focus away from the pagan Sun-god to the Son of God, Christ. The Advent wreath is used to celebrate the warmth, the light, and the life brought to us by the Son of God. We add one light on the wreath for each Sunday in Advent. The candles are either blue or purple. And some wreaths have a pink candle for the third Sunday, a pink candle in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Week by week, we watch the growing light with hope. And we hear words from the prophets which help us prepare for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, the Light of the World.
In today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel, we hear words of Jesus about the future being in the hands of God. “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
That would have been good advice to me back in 2003. Keep your head up and you won’t bash it on an obstacle. Keep your head up and you’ll see what you need to see.
Keep your head up and your heart full of hope.
The word “advent” means “arrival,” or “coming.” In Advent, we look for the arrival of Christ — the arrival of Christ in the manger of Bethlehem — the arrival of Christ at the end of time, or at the end of our lives — and the arrival of Christ in every celebration of this Bread and Cup.
We live in hope. Hope lives in us. And when people have no hope, they are in darkness.
We are waiting. Children are waiting for the joys of Christmas presents. Grandparents are waiting for the joy of family visits. All of us are waiting for a break from our daily lives as we celebrate a beautiful holiday.
We are waiting. America is waiting for a time of concord and tolerance. The nations of the world are waiting for peace. The poor of our planet are waiting for better days.
We are waiting. And when we are waiting, hope is what we need. Hope for more light. Hope for more peace. Hope for more life.
Advent is about hope. The Advent wreath is about hope. The One for whom we wait IS our hope.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.