03 December 2022

A sermon outline with USPG for
Advent II, 4 December 2022

Patrick Comerford

The Second Sunday of Advent
4 December 2022

Matthew 3: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”.’

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume 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. 10 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.

11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

The Second Sunday of Advent, recalls the Prophets

The Second Sunday of Advent, recalls the Prophets. The Gospel reading, in a way, is a reminder of the promises of the Prophets. But, for some of us, it may seem a little out of place, for it is customary to recall John the Baptist on the Third Sunday of Advent.

Lighting the second candle on the Advent Wreath this Sunday, it is customary to think about the Prophets, leaving John the Baptist for the Third Sunday of Advent [11 December 2022], when the Gospel reading explains how Saint John the Baptist, and his mission point to Christ (see Matthew 11: 2-11).

On the other hand, this Gospel reading links with the promises of the prophets, anticipating the coming of the Messiah, telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near, and quoting the Prophet Isaiah.

The introductory verses emphasise John’s preaching, not his baptising. John first and foremost is a prophet and a preacher, calling us to repentance, true conversion, turning around and reorienting ourselves.

John is like the one described by Isaiah as ‘the voice … crying out in the wilderness.’ Yes, we go on to hear a description of John’s baptising, but this Gospel reading places a greater emphasis on the meaning of that baptism and on the message of John.

Constantly, parallels are drawn between John the Baptist and the prophets, particularly Isaiah and Elijah.

The description of John’s clothing of ‘camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist’ draws on descriptions of Elijah as ‘a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist’. Although John positively denies that he is Elijah, later in this Gospel Christ speaks of John in terms of the ‘Elijah who is to come’.

Unlike Elijah, though, John performs no miracles; it is because of his preaching that John is identified as a latter-day Elijah. He fearlessly confronts the powers of the day, both secular and religious. John also heralds the coming Day of the Lord – which is part of the prophesy drawing on Elijah at the very end of the Old Testament (see Malachi 4: 5-6). In this way, John acts as a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

John’s preaching emphasises the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. The word used here for kingdom points first and foremost to God’s rule or reign, not to the realm over which he rules. As the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, where God’s will is done, there his kingdom comes. When God’s kingdom comes, his will indeed shall be done on earth as in heaven, and justice shall be firmly and truly established. And Advent is a time to prepare for, to anticipate, to look forward to the coming of those days.

Because the kingdom is at hand, John calls those who hear him to repentance. The word here means a change of direction, a change of heart, a change of mind. Those who take John’s preaching seriously must reorient their thinking, their priorities. Their whole outlook must change once they realise the nearness and the demands of God’s reign.

Is John trying to shock some of the people out of a false sense of security and into spiritual awareness when he uses strong language: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’

Christ has not yet arrived at the Jordan, but John’s message is not primarily about himself, but about the one who is to come (see verse 11-12), who is spoken of in apocalyptic images of the final judgment.

John’s promises about the promised, coming kingdom of heaven is linked with the prophetic call to make the Lord’s paths straight.

How do we make the Lord’s paths straight?

Where do people encounter difficult roads in their journey in life?

When do we allow ourselves to hear the cry of people in the wilderness?

As we await the coming of Christ – not only as the Child at Christmas but as Christ who ushers in the hopes of all in the wilderness – confront the fears of people on the margins? And, how do we embody, live out, the hopes of people on the move today?

The popular hymn ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ says that despite the dark places in the world today, ‘The hopes and fears of all the years / are met in thee tonight.’

As a sign, as a symbol, of how those hopes and fears are being met this year, USPG and the Church of North India sees the faces of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child in the people being helped through this year’s Advent and Christmas appeal.

This is the Advent Hope and the Christmas present we can offer this year. The fears of those who cross borders, who face the threat of violence and the dangers of human trafficking, are being challenged by those who are working through the Diocese of Durgapur and USPG.

This is one way we can help to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,’ to ‘ make his paths straight.’ With our support, they are no longer like voices crying out in the wilderness. They are heard, and through this work we became signs of our faith, or hope, in the promises of the coming kingdom.

This sermon outline for the Second Sunday of Advent, 4 December 2022, was prepared for USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the ‘Journey to Freedom’ appeal in Advent 2022

Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Saturday 3 December 2022

Saint Francis Xavier depicted in the former Jesuit church in the Crescent, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Advent began on Sunday (27 November 2022), the First Sunday of Advent.

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (3 December) recalls Saint Francis Xavier, Missionary, Apostle of the Indies, 1552, with a commemoration.

Francis was born at the castle of Xavier in Spanish Navarre in 1506. He was educated in Paris and, with Ignatius of Loyola, became one of the group of seven who took vows as the first members of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits.

Since preaching the gospel overseas was an integral part of the Jesuit vocation, Francis sailed for Goa, on the west coast of India, in 1541. He travelled all over the East Indies, evangelizing and establishing the Church in Ceylon, Malacca, Malaya and notably in Japan, where he left behind 2,000 converts. He had just reached China when he died on board ship in December 1552.

I am in London later today. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;

2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Saint Francis Xavier and the Jesuit saints … a window by Evie Hone in the Jesuit Retreat House at Manresa, Clontarf Road, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 9: 35-10: 1, 6-8 (NRSVA):

35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

10 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.’

Saint Francis Xavier among the Jesuit saints … a fresco in the former Jesuit church in the Crescent, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:

Reflect on how Jesus gives his disciples a share in his work (ministry). Think about the opportunities we have to take up that work. What would it look like? What would my role be? How can we help one another take on a share in Jesus’s work?


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,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

O Lord our God,
make us watchful and keep us faithful
as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
that, when he shall appear,
he may not find us sleeping in sin
but active in his service
and joyful in his praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Almighty God,
as your kingdom dawns,
turn us from the darkness of sin
to the light of holiness,
that we may be ready to meet you
in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Collect on the Eve of Advent 2:

O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power
and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week has been ‘World Aids Day.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a report from the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the Church in Zimbabwe. May its work to address inequality and prejudice strengthen the communities it serves.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Francis Xavier Church in Gardiner Street, Dublin

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