17 December 2017

As we wait in Advent for Christ’s
coming, who is Christ for you?

The Triptych of the Baptism of Christ in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 17 December 2017,

The Third Sunday of Advent.

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion).

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; the Canticle Magnificat; I Thessalonians 5: 16-24; and John 1: 6-8, 19-28.

Saint John the Baptist and the Prophet Isaiah … a window in Saint John’s Church, Wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Part 1: Lighting the Third Candle on the Advent Wreath (the Prophets):

Two weeks ago, I explained here in Tarbert that on each Sunday in Advent, instead of preaching one long sermon, I plan going to offer three short reflections: looking at the Advent Wreath and Candles; looking at the Gospel reading and our hopes for the Coming of Christ; and looking at the meaning of Santa Claus.

In Year B in the Lectionary readings, we are focussing on Saint Mark’s Gospel.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we heard his account of the Coming of the Son of Man (Mark 13: 24-37). Last Sunday, we returned to the beginning of his Gospel (Mark 1: 1-8).

But this morning, we skip over to Saint John’s Gospel, and his account of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John in the River Jordan (John 1: 6-8, 19-28).

Indeed, there is no Christmas story in either Saint Mark’s Gospel or Saint John’s Gospel.

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the USPG in the world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first candle to light on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent was the Purple Candle, recalling the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, our fathers and mothers in the faith, like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. The second purple candle, which we lit last Sunday, represents the Prophets. The third, pink candle, which we light this morning, represents Saint John the Baptist, who is also the theme of our readings and some of our hymns.

USPG suggests this prayer when we light this third candle:

Saint John the Baptist:

O God of justice,
whose servant John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming;
we pray for the medical mission of the Church of Bangladesh
as it prepares the way for prematurely born children.
Bless the babies from different faiths who share the warmth of a common incubator.
May their world become a fair and just home for all. Amen.

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove … part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Part 2: Waiting for Christ

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This Sunday [17 December 2017], the Third Sunday of Advent, is known in many parts of the Church as ‘Gaudete Sunday.’

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete (‘Rejoice’), the opening words of the traditional entrance antiphon or introit for the day, which may be translated as:

Rejoice in the Lord always.

In many churches, rose-coloured vestments are worn on Gaudete Sunday instead of the violet of Advent, hence the Pink Candle this morning.

In some Anglican traditions, ‘Sarum Blue’ is used instead, and blue as a liturgical colour represents hopefulness.

The Old Testament reading (Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11) looks forward to the hope of the total salvation of God’s people – bodily, spiritually, individually and socially. These verses (1b to 2) are quoted by Christ when he preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4: 18-19). ‘The year of the Lord’s favour’ (verse 2; see Leviticus 25:10) refers to the jubilee year, a year dedicated to God, when all shall be free to return home to their families, and a year of rest when the land produces without being sown or worked.

Isaiah tells us (verses 4-7) that strangers or foreigners from all nations are to contribute to the restoration of righteousness on earth. They will be double blessed and have eternal joy, and God’s agreement will last for ever.

The prophet speaks (verses 10-11) of the renewed Jerusalem, where all will rejoice, and the people will praise God as an example for ‘all the nations.’

In our New Testament reading (I Thessalonians 5: 16-24), Saint Paul tells the early Christians in Thessaloniki that God’s plan for them, realised in Christ, is to rejoice always, to make their lives a continual prayer, and to be thankful to God, whatever happens to them.

In our Gospel reading, Saint John tells us of Saint John the Baptist, who is sent to ‘testify to the light’ (verse 7), who is Christ (verse 8)

Saint John says simply he is the one who prepares ‘the way of the Lord’ (verse 23), who announces the Messiah’s coming, fulfilling the promise of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40: 3). He is self-effacing about himself, and all he says about himself is that he is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, words first spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lamb seated on the Throne … a fresco on a ceiling in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John would have said it is more important to understand who Christ is. Outside this Gospel reading, he uses a number of terms to describe Christ. They include:

● ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1: 29 and 36).

● ‘The one who existed before John’ (verse 30).

● ‘The Son of God’ (John 1: 34), for we here a revelation of God as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But who do the disciples say Christ is? Later, they give three very different descriptions from those given by Saint John the Baptist:

● Rabbi or Teacher (verse 38);

● the one to see and follow (verse (verse 39);

● the Messiah or the anointed one (verse 41).

Robert Spence (1871-1964), ‘Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield,’ depicts George Fox preaching barefooted in the Market Square in Lichfield 1651 … George Fox challenged his followers to say who Christ is for them (Lichfield Heritage Centre)

Who is Christ for you? This is a question each of us could ask ourselves as we wait for the coming of Christ this Advent.

George Fox, the founding Quaker, challenged his contemporaries as he trudged barefoot through the winter snow in Lichfield: ‘You may say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

Who is Christ for you?

Who is Christ for you, the Christ we are expecting this Advent, the Christ who is coming to you this Christmas?

A jolly Santa outside a shop in Little Catherine Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Part 3: Waiting for Santa Claus

Each Sunday during Advent, I am telling a different story about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the real Santa Claus, and why he is important, why he should rescued from commercialism and Coca Cola, for the Church and Christmas.

One of the oldest stories in which Saint Nicholas is the protector of children takes place long after his death. The people of Myra were celebrating his feast day when Arab pirates from Crete arrived in the town. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas, and as they were leaving town, they also too a young boy, Basilios, to make him a slave.

The emir selected Basilios as his personal cupbearer, thinking Basilios would not understand what the king said to the people around him in his court or palace. For a year, Basilios waited on the king. But back in Myra, his parents were filled with grief at the loss of their only child.

As the next Saint Nicholass’ feastday approached, the boy’s grieving mother did not join in the festivities. She stayed at home, praying for his safekeeping. Miraculously, the boy Basilios was suddenly whisked away from the emir’s throne. Saint Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra, before his parents, still holding the emir’s golden cup.

This is the first story told of Saint Nicholas protecting children, and this became his primary role in the West.

Another story tells of three theological students, travelling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their remains in a large pickling tub or barrel. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at the same inn. In the night, he dreamt of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper.

As Bishop Nicholas prayed earnestly to God, the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. And so, Saint Nicholas became the patron and protector of children.

Whatever you may think about these stories, they are stories too that point to the Resurrection, emphasising that Christmas has no meaning without Easter, that our faith in the Incarnation must always be linked with our faith in the Resurrection.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Third Sunday of Advent, 17 December 2017.


O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)


Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

Post Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

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