Sunday, 12 December 2021

‘The dawn from high will break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death’

‘The Baptism of Christ’ by Paolo Veronese in the Church of Il Redentore in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 12 December 2021

The Third Sunday of Advent, Advent III (Gaudete Sunday)

9.30: The Parish Eucharist, Castletown;

11.30: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

There is a link to the readings HERE

‘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)

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

This morning, on the Third Sunday of Advent, our readings remind us of the promises proclaimed by the prophets, of Saint Paul’s promise that Christ is coming again, and of Saint John the Baptist preparing in the wilderness for the coming of Christ.

Saint Paul’s message is so joyful – ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice! (Philippians 4: 4) – so joyful that this Sunday is often called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ – Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday for rejoicing.

However, I suppose many of us felt a lot less like rejoicing during Storm Barra last week, and more like we were in the wilderness as the electricity kept going off for hours on end.

It was difficult to know which was worse: the darkness that lasted for so long, or the shrieking sounds that woke up the neighbours because the power cuts had short-circuited the alarms in the rectory.

I am thankful for tolerant neighbours, and grateful to Simon White who answered my early morning emergency call … perhaps those neighbours are even more grateful to Simon.

As I sat in the darkness, I was reminded of verses in the Canticle Benedictus which we used last Sunday (5 December 2021, Advent II):

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us.
To shine on those who dwell in darkness … (Benedictus, vv 9-10).

For many of us, there are different reasons why we find ourselves in darkness and in the wilderness, both spiritually and socially. Yet Advent offers us the sure hope that God is coming among us, as John the Baptist promises this morning, to gather us up into his kingdom (see Luke 3: 16-18). Or, as the Prophet Zephaniah promises: ‘He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love’ (Zephaniah 3: 17).

One of the saints in the Calendar of the Church of England during Advent is Samuel Johnson, the compiler of the first Dictionary, who is commemorated tomorrow (13 December).

Dr Johnson dwelt in both darkness and in the wilderness for much of his life: in darkness because of poor eyesight from an early age, and in the wilderness because of gestures and tics, behaviour and mannerisms, diagnosed posthumously as Tourette syndrome.

A childhood illness left him deaf in one ear, and a botched medical procedure in his childhood left permanent scars across his face and body. As a child, he was so blind and disabled that a family servant carried him on her back to and from school each day.

But Samuel Johnson refused to allow his near-blindness and his visible disabilities to put him on the margins of society, or to blame his parents or himself for the disabilities that made him almost sightless and almost unsightly. Indeed, all this served to strengthen and to grow his faith as he matured.

One of his last acts was to receive Holy Communion before he died on the evening of 13 December 1784. His life story is one of darkness turning to light, of moving from blindness to sight, of rising above the harsh judgments of others who would have put him in a wilderness, to redemption, restoration and a living faith.

On a street corner in Lichfield, a larger-than-life mosaic by John Myatt depicts the recognisable face of Samuel Johnson, including his squinting eyes. It is made of small plywood blocks painted with emulsion and marine varnish in a variety of colours.

John Myatt is a controversial artist and a convicted forger who carried out ‘the biggest art fraud of the 20th century.’

As an art student in Stafford, he discovered an amusing talent for mimicking the styles of great artists. He began teaching art at a school near Tamworth, opened a studio in Lichfield, and painted his mural of Samuel Johnson in 1976. At the same time, he developed a passion that turned into quite a skill – painting undetectable fakes.

His first wife left him in 1985, and he gave up teaching and tried to make a living by painting original works in the style of well-known artists. While struggling to raise two children on an art teacher’s salary, he placed a notice in Private Eye offering ‘genuine 19th and 20th century fakes for £200.’

A regular customer, John Drewe, resold some of these paintings as genuine works, and forged papers for their provenance. When he told John Myatt that Christie’s had accepted one of his paintings as a genuine work for £25,000, he became a willing accomplice to Drewe’s fraud, and began painting in the style of masters like Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier, Matisse and Graham Sutherland.

Drewe sold them to auction houses, including Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s, and to dealers in London, Paris and New York.

Myatt was arrested in 1995. He quickly confessed, admitting he had created the paintings using emulsion paint and K-Y Jelly. He had made around £275,000, and offered to return it all and to help to convict Drewe. Myatt was jailed for a year and Drewe was jailed for six years.

On his release, John Myatt’s arresting officer from Scotland Yard became the first new customer for his ‘Genuine Fakes.’ Since then, he continues to paint portraits and copies, now marked indelibly as fakes. Some sell for up to £45,000.

John restored the mural of Samuel Johnson in Lichfield in 2005. Now he is a well-known Sky Arts presenter, happily remarried, and making a living from these legitimate paintings. He advises the police on art fraud as well as colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, and Sotheby’s, and he is the subject of a new film Genuine Fakes.

Now back living in Lichfield, John Myatt is a committed Christian and plays the organ in his local church every Sunday. His story is not just a story with a happy ending, but a story for Advent about wilderness times, fall and restoration, and the promise of new light and new life.

Both John Myatt and Samuel Johnson found themselves in the darkness and in the wilderness, but they moved from the trials of Advent to the hope of Christmas. Their stories are stories of compassion, and of how the compassion of Christ not only extends to but also embraces all who are pushed to the margins all too easily.

The Advent promise of the Prophet Zephaniah this morning is:

I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord (Zephaniah 3: 20)

And the Advent promise that resounds in our ears, time and time again, that we hear all this season, from the Prophet Isaiah to the Gospels, to the Advent words of peace, to Handel’s Messiah, is:

… the dawn from high will break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Luke 1: 78, 79; see Matthew 4: 12; Isaiah 9: 2).

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

John Myatt’s mural of Samuel Johnson in Bird Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 7-18 (NRSVA):

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.’

Saint John the Baptist depicted in a fresco in a church in Crete by the icon writer Alexandra Kaouki of Rethymnon

Liturgical colour: Violet (Purple) or Pink (Gaudete Sunday)

Prayer at the third, pink, Advent 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)

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:

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.

Collect of the Word:

O Lord our God,
you are the Mighty One
who prepared the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of our Lord:
may we like Elizabeth and John the Baptist
recognise the presence among us of him
who sanctifies us through his body offered for us,
your Son, Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and 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:

‘We give you thanks for these heavenly gifts’ (Post-Communion Prayer) … an icon screen in the parish church in Kalamitsi Alexandrou, a mountain village in western Crete (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)


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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