13 December 2020

‘What can I give him,
poor as I am?’ Preparing
the way of the Lord

‘Snow had fallen, snow on snow’ … snow in the Rectory garden in Askeaton the year before last (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 13 December 2020

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday

9.30: The Parish Eucharist, Castletown Church, Co Limerick

11.30: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Readings: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; John 1: 6-8, 19-28

There is a direct link to the readings HERE.

‘He has sent me … to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners’ (Isaiah 61: 1) … an empty prison cell in the former concentration camp at Sachsenhausen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

This morning, we light the third, pink candle on the Advent Wreath, and our prayers and readings focus on Saint John the Baptist.

Today is also known as Gaudete Sunday, taking its name from the Latin word Gaudete, meaning ‘Rejoice.’

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice.

Too often, we think of Advent as a time of penitence, as a time like Lent. But it is not. It is a time to rejoice, to prepare for the coming of Christ, a time of anticipation, waiting, preparation, and of rejoicing.

In many churches, that feeling of joyful anticipations is displayed in the rose-coloured vestments worn on Gaudete Sunday instead of the violet of Advent. In some Anglican traditions, ‘Sarum Blue’ is used instead as a colour that represents hopefulness.

Our first reading (Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11) provides verses (1b to 2) that are quoted by Christ when he begins his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4: 18-19).

‘The year of the Lord’s favour’ 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 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 prmises will last for ever.

He looks forward to the time when all will rejoice because God has provided salvation and has healed their rift with God, and the people will praise God as an example for ‘all the nations.’

Advent should be a time of joyful preparation. As the Psalm this morning recalls: ‘Then was our mouth filled with laughter and our tongue with songs of joy’ (Psalm 126: 2). And, I know, we all need joy and laughter at the end of what has been a very dismal year for many.

In our Gospel reading (John 1: 6-8, 19-28), Saint John the Baptist calls on us to prepare ‘the way of the Lord’ (verse 23).

Saint John the Baptist is self-effacing about himself. He sees his role as one of waiting and preparing.

In this time of Advent, how are we preparing to welcome the coming Christ?

Decorating the house, sending cards, setting up the tree, enjoying the lights and the shopfronts … these all help build up our joyful anticipation and hope for the light of God coming into the darkness of the world … wrapping presents … making a list, checking it twice …

Is Christ on your list?

If Christ is on your list, what present would you bring him?

This question is asked by Christina Rossetti in her poem and hymn, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter.’ It was written almost a century and a half ago, in 1872, but still is one of the most popular and best-loved carols. Some years ago, in a BBC poll of some of the world’s leading choirmasters and choral experts, it was chosen as the best-ever Christmas carol.

This is no popular, cosy, comfortable Christmas carol. Instead, its images are harsh and bleak, and in today’s uncomfortable pandemic climate they are words that are challenging and demanding once again.

In the bleak midwinter (Irish Church Hymnal, No 162), by Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone:
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter,
long ago.

Our God, heav’n cannot hold him,
nor earth sustain;
heav’n and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
worship night and day,
a breast full of milk
and a manger-ful of hay;
enough for him, whom angels
fall down before,
the ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
cherubim and seraphim
thronged the air;
but his mother only,
in her maiden bliss,
worshipped the beloved
with a kiss.

What can I give him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him —
give my heart.

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

(Listen to the Choir of Lichfield Cathedral singing In the bleak midwinter here)

Saint John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ in a stained-glass window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 1: 6-8, 19-28 (NRSVA):

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ 21 And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23 He said,

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord”,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ 26 John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The Baptism of Christ at the entrance to the Baptistery in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Purple) or Pink or Rose (Gaudete Sunday).

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:

This 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)


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 with Patriarchs and Apostles in a stained glass window in Truro Cathedral … from left: Noah with the Ark; Moses with the Ten Commandments; Saint John the Baptist; Saint Peter with the keys; and Saint Philip the Deacon with a pilgrim's shell also used for baptism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


134: Make way, make way, for Christ the king (CD 8)
135: O come, O come, Emmanuel (CD 8)

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.

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