Second Sunday in Advent
preached by the Rev. J. Robert Thacker, December 7, 2003, St. Alban's Anglican-Episcopal Church, Tokyo
GOD WILL LEAD ISRAEL WITH JOY, IN THE LIGHT OF HIS GLORY, WITH THE MERCY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COME FROM HIM.
In this season of Advent, when the secular world outside prepares for Christmas by hanging bright lights and festive decorations, when our gift buying makes this a season of economic data gathering to gauge consumer confidence, when the Christmas tree at Tokyo Tower is decorated with Godzilla attacking the Tower, the Church is clothed in purple, no flowers, and we have scripture readings about a coming Day of the Lord, a day of judgment, a day of salvation—a very serious and important day. It's a day that many people reading the prophecies find frightening.
Yet, on this Second Sunday in Advent, as John the Baptist shouts at us to repent, St. Nicholas makes a visit. December 6 is St. Nicholas day. He lived in the [fourth] century in what we now call Turkey. It is thought he was a nobleman. He was indeed wealthy, and Jesus' command to sell all we have and give to the poor became his guiding principle. His passion was for poor children, the sick and sailors. Today he is the patron saint of children and sailors. Since there is a long tradition of gift giving associated with him, an increasing number of churches are re-introducing St. Nicholas in an attempt to move the emphasis on presents from Christmas to the Sunday after St. Nicholas Day. It's an attempt to wean the kids away from the consumerism that has engulfed the Birth of Christ, the first Day of the Lord. I'm not certain that is going to be a successful venture, but it is fun to have St. Nick make a visit and leave goodies in shoes the Sunday School kids left in the Hall when they came in this morning. Even more than that, he can give us an insight into how to prepare for the next Day of the Lord, and can give us an insight into it's nature.
Clement Clark Moore was a professor at the General Theological Seminary in New York. He wrote about St. Nicholas in a poem that is known and loved the world over. It begins: "'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse." I don't know if he intended it or if he was just so steeped in Anglican theology that it seeped in, but that poem has translated some profound adult themes to a child's level. The feeling of expectation and preparation pervades the poem. Stockings hung, the tree decorated, treats left out for a mysterious special visitor who would come in the quiet of the night. Hope is tangible, as children's dreams are full of sugarplums, fairies and wonderful visions. All that was because they had faith that something wonderful was going to happen. Those are all Advent themes, they are all Day of the Lord themes. For those who know God, the coming Day of the Lord is not frightening, it is something we should look forward to with expectation and hope, because we know God is good and loves us above all else, and has something fantastic in store for us. Baruch and Isaiah and John the Baptist talk about God filling the valleys with the hills and mountains and making a straight and easy path for us to walk on safely to the glory of God's presence.
Today, St. Paul's letter to the Philippians tells us that God has created us for something good and that God's work in us will be completed on the Day of Christ. He says that with our judgment and decisions inspired by God's love, on the Day of Christ we will be pure and blameless, having produced a harvest of righteousness. These are not terrifying things, they are a wonderful and hopeful vision. God sent John the Baptist to tell us how to get ready for that glorious Day. He proclaimed "a baptism for the repentance of sins." Here the message gets a bit more serious. We need to look at ourselves, and our lives, and see what needs to be changed; but that's not bad, that's good. To get ready for Christmas the families in Fr. Moore's poem must have checked out the house, decided how to rearrange the furniture to make room for the tree; maybe some things had to me moved from the mantle to make room for the stockings; they may cleaned the windows and hung wreaths; they did a number of things to get ready.
Nicholas looked at his life in the light of Jesus teaching and made some changes. He began using his wealth for the benefit of others and he gained so much more by using it that way. Repentance means to move in a new and better direction and that's good. The last word in today's gospel describing John's message about the Day of the Lord says, " . . . and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Because we have this promise, because we know it will be so wonderful, we move through Advent toward the night before Christmas with expectation and hope. But we must also do it with self-examination and repentance. We need to clean house, accept John's invitation to the baptism for repentance and put ourselves in the hands of "GOD (who) WILL LEAD (us) WITH JOY, IN THE LIGHT OF HIS GLORY, WITH THE MERCY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT COME FROM HIM."
By the Rev. J. Robert Thacker, Copyright © 2003 Saint Alban's Anglican-Episcopal Church, Tokyo. Permission pending.