Sunday, 16 December 2018

‘Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?’
Trying to answer the Advent challenge

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fifth century mosaic in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 16 December 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday

11.30 a.m.:
Saint Brendan’s, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah (CD 43, No 6), Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

‘God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ … (Luke 3: 8-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

In the four weeks of Advent, we recall the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Advent I), the Prophets (Advent II), Saint John the Baptist (Advent III) and the Virgin Mary (Advent IV).

This morning, as we think about the message of Saint John the Baptist as the Forerunner of Christ, the readings remind us of the promises proclaimed by the prophets, and Saint Paul’s promise to the Philippians of Christ is coming again.

Zephaniah invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand. Isaiah promises a future in which we ‘will draw water from the waters of salvation.’ Saint Paul promises the Church in Philippi that ‘the Lord is near.’ And Saint John the Baptist proclaims that ‘one who is more powerful than I is coming’ as he proclaims ‘the good news to the people.’

Zephaniah is one of the 12 ‘Minor Prophets’ in the Old Testament. His name means ‘Yahweh has hidden,’ ‘Yahweh has protected,’ or ‘Yahweh hides.’

Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, who had been the king of Judah (715-687 BC). In Chapter 3, he speaks of the people of Jerusalem and their crimes. They have failed to listen to God, to accept his advice, to trust in him or to draw near to him. He has destroyed other nations as a warning to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has ignored this warning.

In spite of this, in this morning’s reading (Zephaniah 3: 14-20), the prophet invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand. God has intervened, and he now dwells with his people and protects them.

God’s promise of coming home to the new Jerusalem means oppressors are vanquished, the lame are saved, the outcast become insiders, shame is turned into praise, misfortunes are reversed, in a promise that is for ‘all the peoples of the earth.’

Our Canticle, ‘The Song of Isaiah’ (Isaiah 12: 2-6), is in a similar vein to our reading from Zephaniah. God will gather the remnant, the remaining faithful, from throughout the world, when the Messiah comes.

In our epistle reading (Philippians 4: 4-7), Saint Paul urges his readers to behave towards one another with gentleness. In a well-known blessing, he promises that God’s peace will protect them. This peace ‘surpasses all understanding,’ it is beyond the grasp of the human mind and brings with it more than we can ever expect: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (verse 7).

In our Gospel reading (Luke 3: 7-18), we hear Saint John the Baptist deliver a message of forgiveness of sins and the advent of a new relationship between the people and God.

He addresses the crowds, telling them they are vipers and accusing them of being baptised without any intention of starting a new, ethical, life.

Saint Luke gives four examples of behaviour that exemplifies a new life:

We should see to it that those who are poor have clothes and those who are hungry have food to eat.

We should not pile on debts on those who cannot pay them.

We should not oppress others.

And if we are comfortable ourselves, then we should be satisfied with our lot.

Perhaps Saint John is also reminding us that we must constantly question our own behaviour and be open to God’s way and God’s will.

At the time, people were expecting the Messiah to come at any moment. Perhaps they hoped that Saint John the Baptist was going to restore Israel’s fortunes and that God’s power would triumph in the here and now.

But Saint John tells them that the baptism he offers is vastly inferior to the Baptism of Jesus, and that even he will be found unworthy when Christ comes.

What do we expect when Christ comes? And how are we going to celebrate this?

The great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote: ‘Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.’

There is a popular posting on social media for the past two weeks that asks: ‘Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?’

And the reply is: ‘Feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, love the outcast, forgive the wrongdoer, inspire the hopeless.’

It seems like a good summary of the message of the Prophets and the challenge of Saint John the Baptist. But, as we move into the last week or so of Advent, it seems to me to be a good summary of the message of Christ and the message of Christmas too.

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

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in a church in the mountain village of Maroulas, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 7-18:

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11 In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12 Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13 He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14 Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

‘The Holy City’ … a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse in London’s East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical colour: Violet (Purple) or Pink.

The liturgical provisions suggest that Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

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.

Third Sunday of Advent, 16 December 2018 (Pink Candle):

Saint John the Baptist


Lord Jesus, your cousin John
prepared the way for your coming.
Bless all who speak out against
injustice and wrong:
so may the light of your truth
burn brightly, and the world become
a fairer and just home for all.
(A prayer from USPG)

The Collect:

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:

The Advent Collect is said after the Collect of the Day until Christmas Eve:

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.

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)

Preface:

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:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Father,
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.

Blessing:

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

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4: 7) … a sculpture in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
Canticle: Song of Isaiah (CD 43, No 6)
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel (CD 8)
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)

‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ (Hymn 136) … the Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist depicted at the Duomo in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

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