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Advent 3

Advent 3

Sermon by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman - Gaudete - Rejoice

The third Sunday in Advent is sometimes known as Gaudete Sunday.  This comes from the Latin word Gaudete, which means rejoice and is the first word of the introit to the mass used on this day.  ‘Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice’.  It’s a phrase which is take from Phil 4 v 4 – 6 but is also reflected in today’s epistle.

Similar to Lent, Advent is something of a penitential season as we wait for the coming of Christ at the feast of Christmas and in His second coming again in glory.  But in the middle of the season we have Gaudete Sunday when the joy and gladness of the coming Christ is remembered.

The theme of joy and gladness run through our readings today.  Happiness is temporary and external.  Joy is eternal and internal.  There is a big difference and we sometimes mix up the two…

In Isaiah the Jews are returning to Jerusalem after their years in exile.  It’s a time of rejoicing and new beginnings.  Israel are to be a light to the entire world, to every nation, not just inward looking but outward facing so that all the world will come to know the love of God and His care for all His creation.

In our epistle reading the Thessalonians are encouraged to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances and be faithful in word and deed.

An in the gospel reading from John we read that John the Baptist testifies about the light that about to be unleashed on the world (and entire cosmos) that will offer new joy and hope to all people.

He calls on all that hear him to prepare the way for the one who is to come.  He is not the messiah but the one who is to follow him is.

So to all who come to him and ask him, are you the one, it’s not surprising he says, ‘I am not’.  The one who is the ‘I am’ is still to come.

It must have been frustrating for the priest, Levites and Pharisees come to him to ask him who he is.  You can imagine them going back after the first part of the conversation and saying, ‘Well, we know who he’s not’.

The Gospel writer John has already introduced us to the concept of Jesus being the word.  Now he introduces us to John the Baptist, the voice that will proclaim the word.  John the Baptist himself, quoting Isaiah says he is only the voice; it is Jesus Himself who is the word.

Without the word, the voice has nothing to say.  Just as John was the voice making known the word, God calls us to do the same in our world.

But as we read the reading today we see another important facet to what the gospel writer wants us to understand.  Part of being that voice is to be people of action too.

Because what Isaiah called the Jews to be and what John calls us to be is active participants in bringing about the new world order.

It’s about proclamation and action working together, both of which should be reflected in our lives.

We’re called to be active participants not idle spectators in our Christian lives.

When the Jews returned to Jerusalem they were called to speak out and bring Good news to the city, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to those who are prisoners, to comfort those who mourn.

And importantly to restore and rebuild the city.  Repair the ruins, play their part in restoring God’s work back to the way God intended it to be.   Words that we know Jesus quotes some 500 years later in the Synagogue in Nazareth as He starts to bring about a new restoration.

Isaiah speaks of ‘The year of the Lord’ was when things were returned to their rightful owners, debts forgiven and lands returned.  Jesus brings that about as He restores us to God.

But John too not only speaks as the voice but acts too.

He proclaims the Good News which is to come, but he also acts, baptising all who would come to him.  Not with a baptism of conversion or ritual purification and cleansing (called Tevilah which was repeatable and was used for someone entering into the Jewish faith in some way) but as a sign of repentance and acknowledging before God that things weren’t right.  Tevilah was done in a source of natural water called Mikvah so the River Jordan was a good place to do this, if this is what John had been doing.

John’s response to the light that was to come was both to speak out and to act.

John starts his gospel with the words, ‘In the beginning…’.  It’s like Genesis when the world is created and ordered.

Now we have the start of the new world order and the first chapter of John takes us through the first week of this new world order coming. 

Day one sees the activity of John the Baptist followed by day two, ‘The next day…’ where John the Baptist says to his disciples as he sees Jesus, Behold, there is the lamb of God’.  And so it goes on…   …the phrase, ‘The next day…’ occurring several more times in the first chapter before we get to the wedding at Cana.

Who are you and what are you doing?  As we wait for Christ this Advent in the penitential manner of the season these seem to be good questions for us to ask ourselves.

Who are we?  What is our true identity?  Is it in the old world or the new?  If someone else was asked that question about us what would they say?

What are you doing?  Do our actions match our words?  Do our words and actions match the faith we profess.

We wait for the coming of God’s Kingdom.  A Kingdom of joy and hope.  We wait with expectancy.

Is God waiting with expectancy and hope on us too?

The questions to John the Baptist are appropriate questions to us also.

Who are we, in whom do we have our identity? 

What are we doing?