My first experience of Advent in the Episcopal Church was a bit of a let-down. In the United Methodist Churches where I grew up in, Advent was a time to sing all our favorite Christmas songs, preparing us for the great feast of Christmas. It was sort of like turning on the local Christmas radio station throughout Advent, but only with the religious songs. I loved the experience, and looked forward to December all year long. So when I encountered Advent in the Episcopal Church for the first time, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment. Not only were we not singing Christmas songs, the songs we were singing felt drab and disappointing. Everything about the season felt quiet and reserved – nothing like the boisterous build-up I was used to for Christmas. I found myself thoroughly confused – wondering if the Episcopal Church had not received the Christmas memo.
But slowly, as the Church usually does, the Episcopal Church won me over. As my adult life became more frenetic, the quiet of Advent became like a precious gift. Instead of putting me in the stable on December 1st, the Church reminded me of the journey toward the stable – of prophecies and promises, of visitations and expectations, of hopes and dreams. And believe it or not, slowly over the years, I found that there were actually Advent songs that I liked, and eventually came to love, cherish, and anticipate every year. Many of my favorites we hear today: O Come, O Come Emmanuel; The Angel Gabriel; and Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Not only are the words beautiful, but the music reaches something deep inside of me and invites me into a rich, reflective reverence as I block out all that beckons me into a break-neck pace of life. I find that the music calms my spirit and invites me into contemplation and quiet before our God.
And so today, on this first Sunday in Advent, the Church gives us the gift of Advent Lessons and Carols. Leading up to this day, many of you have asked me, on this day of joint worship, as we head into our Annual Meeting, why we would not have Holy Eucharist. The strict answer is that the liturgy of Advent Lessons and Carols does not recommend Holy Eucharist. But the better answer for me is that by having a service so outside our normal pattern, we are marking the differentness of this season of Advent. By starting out the season with a service so out of the ordinary, we proclaim that Advent is not ordinary. Our behavior during Advent will not be ordinary – at least not the ordinary of the secular world this time of the year. As we claim this season of Advent is as quiet oasis during in an otherwise frenzied time, we shake up our senses so much that we cannot help but to set our intentions for these four weeks on a different way of being throughout this season.
I invite you today to drink in the gift of Lessons and Carols. I invite you too soak in the differentness of this day, letting the service awaken your senses to what is to come. I invite you to listen to the lessons, many of which you will hear again throughout Advent, remembering why the birth of the Christ Child is so momentous. I invite you to meditate on the music of this day, letting the words speak new truth to you, and allowing the melodies to calm and renew you. Advent is the Church’s gift to you, and our service of Lesson and Carols reminds us of the availability of that gift. Drink from the rich, deep pools of refreshment waiting for you today. Amen.