Black Cake and Advent — a homily preached by Ann Griffin at Epiphany-St Mark’s on Advent IV

[Ann is an honorary assistant at Holy Trinity]


Here we are – nearly at the end of Advent – one week from today all the

preparations of Advent will be over and we will be celebrating the birth of

the Christ Child.



Today I want to talk to you about Black Cake and Advent – because the

two are closely related



Those of you who are not from the Islands will be saying “What on earth is Black Cake?” and those of you who are from the Islands will be saying “How come she knows about Black Cake?”


My grandfather was a sea captain and he owned a citrus plantation in the Islands. He moved his family there so that when he and my uncles were at sea, my grandmother and aunt could run the plantation – my mother was the youngest by far in the family so she didn’t get to do that.


When the family moved to Canada about 100 years ago, Black Cake had become firmly planted in the family’s Christmas tradition and my grandmother taught my mother how to make it – as I grew older I began to see parallels between Advent and Black Cake


In the weeks of November the scripture readings give us hints that something special is going to happen – not every reading and not every Sunday, but often enough to prick our ears





So too, strange things began to appear on the grocery list that aren’t normally there – citron, peel, cherries, muscat raisins, currants and so on.


All were carefully placed in a bowl with port wine or dark or sailor’s rum (in my case) and left to soak.


Just as the pre-Advent season is now marked by Christ the King Sunday, the same Sunday used to be known a Stir Up Sunday from the collect for the day –

Stir up , we beseech thee O Lord, the hearts and minds of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of God’s good works….”


On Stir up Sunday, everyone took a turn at stirring the fruit while making a wish – The folk lore being that if your cakes weren’t ready to be baked by then, they wouldn’t be ready for Christmas.


The cakes were baked, thoroughly cooled, placed in a tin box and a very generous portion of rum poured over them each Sunday thereafter and probably a few weekdays in between.


Just as the ingredients continued to be transformed into Black Cake, the readings in Advent call upon us to be transformed.


The First Sunday of Advent calls us into the light:

Isaiah says “tear open the heavens and come down as when fire kindles brushwood” – light helps us to see what is in the shadows –





The next Sunday speaks of preparedness

The author of Second Peter says “wait for and hasten the coming of the day of God” – God acts through His people, singly and collectively and we all have a part to play in the coming of God.


The Third Sunday calls us to healing

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted” – we are called upon to heal the World, the Church ourselves and each other to make a place fit for God


And today we are called to remember Mary and her role in the coming of Christ. As the Psalmist puts it

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations” – we all have a part to play in the Incarnation which we will celebrate a week from today


During the period of Advent, God takes all of us, individually and collectively and transforms us.


And now we enter into the last week of preparations before the Feast of the Incarnation. It can be a hectic, frenzied time, full of last minute shopping, gift wrapping, trying to figure out where to hide things and all those activities with which we are all too familiar.







I have my own names for a lot of periods of the Church Year. This is what I call the Simon and Garfunkel time of the year – “Slow down, you’re goin’ too fast got to make the moment last, Hello lamppost how ya doin’, got to watch your flowers growin’”


And the Church helps us to slow down by giving us a special saying for each day of the last period of Advent – these sayings form the verses of the well-beloved Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emanuel..” I don’t expect you to memorise all of them, but pick one as ‘your’ verse and try to think of it each day


O Come Thou Wisdom from on high, and

order all things far and nigh;

to us the path of knowledge show, and

teach us in her ways to go.


O Come, O Come Thou Lord of might, who

to thy tribes on Sinai’s height

in ancient times did give the law, in cloud and majesty and awe.


O Come Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,

from every foe deliver them that trust Thy mighty power to save,

and give them victory over the grave.








O Come Thou Key of David,

come and open wide our heavenly home,

make safe the way that leads us on high that

we no more have cause to sigh.


O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high, and

cheer us by thy drawing nigh;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night and

death’s dark shadow put to flight.


O Come, Desire of all the nations,

bind in one the hearts of all mankind;

bid every strife and quarrel cease and

fill the world with heaven’s peace.


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile here until

the Son of God appear.


And the refrain that sums up the transforming process of Advent and the coming of Christ –


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.



For God will be among us.