O for Advent

Published: Monday, 11 December 2017

This sermon was delivered by Geoff Pound to the Ashburton Combined Churches Advent Service on 3 December 2017 at the Ashburton Uniting Church.

My sermon tonight is one word. It’s the word: ‘O’. Can you say it? [‘O’]. Tonight’s sermon is, in fact, only one letter: ‘O’. Say it again: [‘O’]. A bit louder. A bit longer. A bit longer and louder.

If someone asks you what tonight’s sermon was about, you’ll say: [‘O’].

Today is the first day of Advent, this preparation period leading up to Christmas.

The word ‘O’ is an Advent word.

It occurs so often in the Advent Scriptures and stories.

Just like the word hiccup, or mumble or plop or belch, the word ‘O’ mimics its sound.

‘O’ has so many different sounds at Advent.


The prophet Isaiah says to God (64:1): “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” In a world of so much war and worry can’t you hear his longing? His desperation? ‘O’.

The word ‘O’ is so personal. Listen to Isaiah express his relationship and friendship (64:8).
“O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter.”

‘O’ expresses our faith. For Isaiah, to say ‘O’ is prayer: “O comfort, O comfort my people.” (Isaiah 40:1)

We hear the word ‘O’ in the Christmas stories:

Mary is engaged. She’s working on her wedding plans when there’s a knock on the door. God’s messenger comes with a greeting that knocks her off her feet. Mary is staggered by the greeting. Can you give an ‘O’ of surprise? [‘O’].

God’s messenger says to this engaged young woman: “You are with child and you will bear a son and you will name him Jesus.” Can you sound that ‘O’ of perplexity and bewilderment? [‘O’].

Can you imagine Mary mustering up the courage to tell her fiancé, Joseph, that she’s got a baby on the way? Can you men express Joseph’s response in an ‘O’ of terror and shame? [‘O’]

As Advent rolls into Christmas this young couple learn of a census that was decreed. It was not an online census. Everyone had to go and register in the place of the man’s birth. In Joseph’s case, Bethlehem. The rulers didn’t care if your partner was pregnant. Can’t you hear pregnant Mary bouncing up and down on the donkey saying, ‘O no’?

When there was no room in the inn, can you make that ‘O’ of exhaustion and despair? [‘O’] They’re at the end of their tether. They stay in a barn out the back but the baby’s coming. Can you women capture the ‘O’ of labour and the painful birth? [‘O’]

After the disruption, the travel, the pain, there’s the birth. There’s a new baby in their arms. Can you express their joy with an ‘O’? [‘O’]

There’s something primal about that word ‘O’. It’s conveys something so deep. Deeper than words.

For many years an Arapahoe Indian woman wrote a weekly article for the local newspaper in America. Her English name was Molly Shepherd. Every week she wrote in broken English about her tribal customs, their songs and their funerals. It was interesting. It was educational. Despite her broken English she had a gift for words.

One article, however, was very brief. It was the afternoon paper on the Friday following the death of President Kennedy. In that article, she wrote, “Molly has no words for you today. Molly has nothing to write today. Molly has no words today. Molly goes through the whole house saying, ‘O’.”

Did you hear that word? In that one word, ‘O’, Molly has joined with the pain of the whole world.

By speaking that one word, ‘O’, we too, can join with people despite their culture, in their surprise, their pain, their shock and their joy.

By speaking this one word, this Advent word, we join ourselves with God in faith, in hope and in love.