Sunday, 9 December 2018
Markers along the road
as we make our
way through Advent
Sunday, 9 December 2018,
The Second Sunday of Advent.
11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?
We all say it as children and teenagers. And – even if a little more silently – we all say it as adults too.
I remember the return visits to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford in my childhood and early teens. Counting out the towns and villages like milestones: Thurles, Cashel, Cahir, Clogheen … they seemed to get smaller and smaller along the way, until at last we drove up over the Vee road that cuts through the Knockmealdown Mountains, looking back across the Golden Vale. And then, only then, we knew we were there.
I still do the same today. Coming back from Dublin to Askeaton on Friday, first on the train, and then on the bus, I found myself counting out those markers or milestones: Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Templemore … wondering whether the trolley service would reach me before Thurles … and then wondering was I going to be stuck in the wilderness at Limerick Junction, waiting in the rain, waiting without shelter, waiting with no place to buy a coffee.
Advent is like that. Longing and waiting, trying to overcome our own negativities, wondering are we there yet, when are we going to ever get there, how long must I wait here?
And the milestones along the way are marked out too, by the Sundays of Advent: the Patriarchs and Matriarchs on the first Sunday, including Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. We remembered them as we lit the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath.
The Prophets, including major prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, minor prophets like Hezekiah and Malachi, and even prophets in the Apocryphal books such as Baruch, on this, the second Sunday, when we light the second purple candle on the Advent Wreath. We are getting there, almost halfway there, but not quite there yet.
By now, we should have written most of our Christmas cards, bought many of our presents, taken many of the Christmas decorations down from the attic, even if they are not yet up.
It seemed at the time that the wait was unnecessary, that the Messiah was tarrying. The Prophet Habakkuk says:
‘For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay’ (Habakkuk 2: 3)
To this day, pious Jews pray in the morning: ‘I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and though he tarry, nonetheless do I believe.’ It is the twelfth of the 13 Jewish Principles of Faith, first outlined in the 12th century by the mediaeval philosopher and rabbi Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon).
Then along comes Saint John the Baptist next Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. We are more than halfway there then, the time of waiting is coming to an end. And so, the third candle on the Advent Wreath changes from purple to pink with a colourful note of joy and anticipation. Almost there, more than half way there, but not there yet.
And then the last Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. We remember the Virgin Mary, whose ‘Yes’ to God is not a mere polite reply: it is ‘Yes’ to all those promises to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to the Prophets, to Saint John the Baptist; her ‘Yes’ is ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation, to the first Christmas, to all our Christmases, to the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).
All our readings this morning are about looking forward, anticipating something that is going to be better than today.
In our first reading (Baruch 5: 1-9), the Prophet Baruch is speaking to a people who have been living in exile in Babylon for generations.
He promises them, just as they have returned to God’s ways, which their ancestors had long forgotten, that they are now going to return to Jerusalem, which they have never ceased to think of as their home.
I imagine a cluster of Irish families living in America or Australia for generations, believing after hundreds of years that Ireland is still home, that some day they will go back there, return, perhaps hoping to find us all in Aran sweaters, and finding days that are full of music on bodhráns and tin whistles, with dancing at the crossroads.
But the promise of a New Jerusalem was never supposed to be fulfilling nostalgia for the old ways and the old city rebuilt to look like something it had never been. The New Jerusalem symbolised something greater … the Kingdom of God.
The exiled people in Babylon continued to keep faith in God and to hope in his promises. Their time of grieving, of loss, of being homesick, is coming to an end.
It is time to throw off the clothes of mourning, and to dress up for the party. It is not so much Jerusalem that really matters, but the promise that comes with returning. The real return involves going to a place where justice and peace prevail, where God’s glory will be seen.
And going there is such joy. Baruch echoes the Prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 40: 3-4), when he describes that journey home, saying a road will be levelled through the desert, a road that will be lined with trees that grow in the desert miraculously at God’s command.
But, of course, this is prophecy and poetry. For a people in exile, who find themselves in a culture that is not their own, how do they leave what they have in the present? How do they maintain their hopes from the past? How do they look forward in faith to the future?
These are questions of anticipation and hope in this season of Advent. Baruch says it is time to end the mourning, to look forward in hope to the future.
Could this be true for us this Advent?
How do we turn from the gloom and fears of the present day to hope for reconciliation and peace?
What do we see in our vision for the future?
Instead of a psalm this morning, we shared the Canticle Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79) This song links the promises to the Patriarchs and Prophets of the past to the promises of a future that are going to be the message of this old priest’s son.
Zechariah was struck dumb when he heard that in her old age his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with a child – the child who becomes Saint John the Baptist.
When Zechariah and Elizabeth go to name the child, Zechariah agrees to the name John, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he sings this song.
Once again, this is a song of promise, a song of hope for the future, a song about God’s blessing for his people. God is to give them a mighty saviour who will save them from sin, rescue them from their enemies.
God is fulfilling his promises, and Saint John the Baptist will prepare the way for the Lord.
Zechariah sings about the promised ‘dawn from on high’ that is to ‘break upon us,’ the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for all humanity. At a time when hopes are at a low ebb and people are particularly in need, ‘in darkness and the shadow of death,’ he will be a beacon guiding us ‘into the way of peace.’
In our Gospel reading (Luke 3: 1-6), Saint Luke keeps us up-to-date on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist, giving us the date, time and place, the when, the where and the why of his preaching before Christ’s arrival.
Saint John the Baptist quotes from the Prophecy of Isaiah also quoted by the Prophet Baruch (see Isaiah 40: 3-5). Now, however, when Saint John the Baptist echoes the prophets (see Isaiah 40: 3; Malachi 3: 1, 4: 5), he says these words are not only for a people long ago, but promises for us today, promises for all people.
As pilgrim people on this journey of faith in Advent, we long for the Kingdom of God, present but not yet fully realised, we long to hear the voice crying out in the wilderness, to hear that we are welcome.
Christ is coming with the Good News of the Kingdom of God, he is the living word who brings the promise of transformation and change.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are on the road, but are we there yet?
No. We are almost halfway there, but there is still some way to go yet.
Meanwhile, we must have hope in the future, keep faith in God, and look forward to the promise of the Kingdom of God.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSV):
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.’
Liturgical colour: Purple (Violet)
The liturgical provisions suggest Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional to omit Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.
The Advent Candle, the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):
Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)
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.
Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Advent Collect:
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.
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)
Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:
The Canticle Benedictus as Hymn 685 (CD 39)
119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org