The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 11/28/99
Text: Mark 13:24-37
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

In my den is a framed needlework which says one word - Camelot. It was a gift from a dear friend many years ago who knew how much I loved that Broadway play (and eventually movie) - wonderful story, marvelous characters, tremendous music.

In short there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happ'ly ever aftering
Than here in Camelot.(1)

The story comes from a book by T. H. White called The Once and Future King(2) and is based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Two themes are woven through it: Arthur's dream of a peaceable world where might serves right, and the ill-fated romance between his wife, Queen Guinevere and the handsome young knight, the king's strong right hand, Sir Lancelot.

The last scene of the story takes place on the eve of a mighty battle, which has come about as a result of this sad betrayal. Arthur's forces line up against those of Lancelot. As the king reluctantly prepares for the combat, he discovers a boy, about thirteen years old, who says his name is Tom. "I have come to fight for the Round Table. I intend to become a Knight of the Round Table."

The king, disillusioned about the shattered peace which his Round Table had symbolized, asks Tom how he knows about it. "Was your father a knight? Was your mother saved by one? Was your village protected by knights?"

Tom's reply was simple, yet profound. "Oh, no, my Lord," he says, "I only know of them...the stories people tell."

Arthur pauses for a moment, as he considers what he has just heard. Then he says to Tom, "From all the stories people tell, you wish to become a knight. Tell me what you think you know about the Round Table."

Tom replies with great excitement: "I know everything. Might for right. Justice for all. A round table where all knights would sit in unity. Everything."

Then King Arthur, as his world is crumbling around him, realizes that he has just heard this boy speak the words of hope that he had lost sight of. And, instantly, Arthur knows what to do. He forbids Tom from fighting in the coming battle and commands him rather to stay behind the lines until the conflict is over. He knights him - "Sir Tom" - and commands him to return to England, to grow up and grow old...and to remember the story of Camelot. He instructs his young friend,

Each evening from December to December,
Before you drift to sleep upon your cot,
Think back on all the tales that you remember
of Camelot.

Ask every person if he's heard the story,
And tell it strong and clear if he has not,
That once there was a fleeting wisp of glory
Called Camelot.

Now, the King's aide reminds him to hurry for it is time for the battle. Arthur moves briefly toward his army, but then pauses. With triumph in his voice, he exclaims, "I have won my battle, and here in this boy is my victory. What we did with the Round Table will be remembered. You will see." Arthur sends Tom off on his mission to tell far and wide the story of Camelot.

In a way, that story is a parable of what we commence here today.(3) This is the first Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday in a brand new church year. As has been happening for centuries of Christian history, each year from "December to December" we retell the story of Jesus from beginning to end, and as our gospel lesson reminds us, we note that the story continues and will culminate in his coming again. So, in his own words, "Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come...And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

No question, the story is wonderful in the retelling. The idyllic setting of the Garden of Eden (early Camelot?), the entrance of sin into the picture - not only Adam and Eve, or even Lancelot and Guinevere, but you and me as well - then the reminder that sin does not have the last word: grace, mercy and the love of Jesus do. In a cycle that continues, our story is very much like the story of Camelot, for we, like Arthur, know that the shattered vision is not the end of God's story with us.

"Tell it again, Daddy." Do you remember saying that when you were little? Or hearing it from your own children? It was always after some favorite story. Advent and the beginning of a new church year is our time to collectively call out, "Tell it again, Daddy." True, just like "Sir Tom" of Camelot, we have heard it over and over again. No matter; it is always wonderful. But we do well to recall that, like Tom, our mission is not only to remember, "December to December," but also to tell the story far and wide - reminding those who know it, and proclaiming it afresh to those who have never heard. "Tell it again, Daddy."

Tell me the old, old story
Of Jesus and his love.(4)

Have a wonderful season.


1. Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe, 1960

2. (1958) The Once and Future King is the collective volume of works, loosely based on Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur (c.1469), which includes The Sword in the Stone, The Queen of Air and Darkness (formerly The Witch in the Wood), The Ill-Made Knight, and The Candle in the Wind.

3. Thanks to Ken Kesselus, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Bastrop, Texas for the creative blending of the Camelot story with the beginning of Advent. Via Ecunet, "Worship that Works," #312, 10/26/99

4. Katherine Hankey, 1866

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