15 December 2019

‘Go and tell John what you
hear … the poor have
good news brought to them’

The beheading of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Third Sunday of Advent, ‘Gaudete Sunday’

Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

11.30 a.m., The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

The Readings: Isaiah 35: 1-10; the Canticle Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55); James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11.

There is a link to the readings HERE

Salome asks for the head of Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in Analipsi Church or the Church of the Ascension in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

Today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is also known as ‘Gaudete Sunday.’ That name from the Latin word Gaudete (‘Rejoice’). So, half-through Advent, we are reminded to rejoice.

Advent is a season to prepare to rejoice at the best present of all, the gift of God Incarnate at the Incarnation of Christ.

Throughout Advent, the spirit of the Liturgy is one of expectation and preparation for Christmas and for the coming of Christ. Gaudete Sunday in Advent is a counterpart to Laetare Sunday in Lent, and provides a break about mid-way through the season of preparation. It signifies the joy and gladness as the Lord’s coming comes nearer and nearer.

On the Advent wreath, the rose-coloured or pink candle is lit in addition to the two violet or blue candles, that represent the first two Sundays of Advent. The readings emphasise the joyous anticipation of the Lord’s coming.

These candles, in sequence, are:

Advent 1: The Patriarchs;
Advent 2: The Prophets;
Advent 3: John the Baptist;
Advent 4: The Virgin Mary;
Christmas Day: Christ.

Instead of a Psalm this morning, we sang a hymn version of the Canticle Magnificat (Luke 1: 46-55), when the Virgin Mary and her cousin Saint Elizabeth, both pregnant, rejoice in the coming birth of their children: Mary and the Christ Child; Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist.

So we see, side-by-side, two women, one seemingly too old to have a child, but destined to bear the last prophet of the Old Covenant, of the age that was passing away; and the other woman, seemingly too young to have a child, but about to give birth to him who is the beginning of the New Covenant, the age that would not pass away.

We met Saint John the Baptist last week by the banks of the River Jordan in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent (Matthew 3: 1-12, 8 December 2019).

Now, in this morning’s Gospel reading, Saint John seems not to know who Jesus is. Saint John the Baptist is waiting in prison, about to lose his head. Perhaps he wonders whether he made a mistake in thinking Jesus is the Messiah; perhaps he is feeling discouraged and doubtful, he sends messengers to ask Christ: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ (verse 3).

The simple answer for Christ might have been: ‘Yes.’ Instead, however, Christ points Saint John, the messengers and the crowd to the signs of the Kingdom. Echoing the Prophet Isaiah, he points out that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.

When Saint John’s disciples return and tell him what Christ has told them, does Saint John wonder whether he has been waiting for the wrong kind of Messiah?

How often have you waited expectantly – for Christmas, for a Christmas present, for a new job, for a major family milestone, for the move to a new home – only to face the realisation that your expectation has been unfulfilled?

Another pair of socks? The wrong job with low pay, high expectations and bad conditions? The family milestone upstaged by a family crisis? The new home has horrid neighbours? Is the person I loved so many years ago really the person I live with now?

Picture Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, lonely and empty by the side of the road, waiting forever for Godot who never arrives.

Picture Eleanor Rigby in the lyrics of the Beatles, waiting alone at the window, alone among the lonely people.

Picture Saint John the Baptist, waiting in prison where he is being held by Herod the Great.

When we are disappointed, when our expectations of the coming Kingdom are dashed, is it because we are not looking for the signs of the Kingdom that are all around us?

The gift of Christ is precious, but does it always meet our expectations?

Are we prepared to look around and notice new places where Christ is working and living? If you were told: ‘Go and tell John what you see and hear,’ where would you say you see and hear Christ at work today?

I am not blind, lame, leprous, deaf, poor, downtrodden, dead … surely? Am I?

Christ comes in humility for the humble. He comes for those who do not have it all worked out for themselves. I am not humble; so often I think I have it all worked out.

Am I truly prepared for the coming of Christ in ten days time?

Like Saint John the Baptist, have I enough time to ask and find out who Christ truly is, not just for me, but for those who wait and pray for the promises of the Kingdom of God?

And … will I be ready to rejoice with them?

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

Salome visiting Saint John the Baptist in Prison, Francesco Barbieri (Il Guernico)

Matthew 11: 2-11 (NRSVA):

2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ 4 Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.’

‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?’ (Matthew 11: 7) … reeds in the River Shannon at Carrick-on-Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical colour: Violet (Purple), or Rose (Pink).

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during 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.

The Collect of the Day:

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 ever.

This collect is said after the Collect of the day until Christmas Eve

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:

The 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:

Saint John the Baptist in Prison, Juan Fernandez de Navarrete (1526-1579)


166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 10)
704, Mary sang a song, a song of love (CD 40)
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour (CD 31)

Saint John the Baptist depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

The Visitation … a panel in the 19th Century neo-Gothic altarpiece from Oberammergau in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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