Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

17th Dec 2017

Sermon for The Third Sunday in Advent (Year B)


John 1.6-8; 19-28.


He came as a witness to speak for the light.  John 1.7


In today’s gospel we again meet John the Baptist. John is for ever defined by what he is not: he is not the light; he is not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. He is ‘unworthy to tie the sandal’ of one coming after him. While he baptizes with water, the one he proclaims will baptise with the Holy Spirit. And he knows who this person is, for he is standing right there among the priests and Levites sent to question him; and yet the priests and Levites do not recognize him. The English court composer Orlando Gibbons composed a breathtakingly beautiful piece entitled ‘This is the Record of John’ which pictures John in an interrogation about his identity which is answered in the negative. And the emphasis on the negative identity of John alongside his passionate avowal of ‘The One Who is to Come’ serves to make his prophecy even more suspenseful and powerful.


John is transformed into the key figure at the beginning of Christ's ministry. Far from the 'being not' all the things that Jesus is, John is refreshingly certain about what he has to do. He is like a witness in court giving testimony - in fact the New Standard Revised Version of the Bible uses just this word ‘testimony’ to describe what John does here: 'This is the testimony given by John… I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.' No-one before or since has proclaimed God as John did.


In acknowledging that he stands in the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, John links us to the prophecies of our first reading today, that joyous vision of the good news of deliverance. The whole passage overflows with joy at the vision of a just king who frees the oppressed, comforts those who mourn, repairs ruination, and hates all the sin and wrongdoing which disfigure the world; a God who makes an everlasting covenant with his people, and promises them that they are the people whom the Lord has blessed. John's task as a witness, is to give expression to this glorious message: the time has come, the time is now, the Messiah is even now amongst you, prepare the way for His coming. This note of joy and rejoicing is so apt for today, as the wearing of this pink vestment signifies a rejoicing in the midst of the glorious solemnity of the Advent season. The Latin word ‘gaudete’ is one which signifies rejoicing.


From what cause do we as Christians rejoice? We rejoice because we are inheritors of the Christian tradition in all its fullness here at Holy Cross Church. We trace the Christian tradition back to the apostles, the ones Jesus called. We proclaim the existence of The One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as utterly defining for our existence as Christians. The Church’s essential character is bound up in its tradition of unity and discipline. An essential part of this discipline lies in its faith in and obedience to the person of the Bishop. The existence of the Bishop is a block against any church becoming a sect.


St Irenaeus the first of the Christian theologians in c.160 wrote “Against The Heresies”. One of these heresies was that which ignored the authority of the Bishop.


Let nothing be done without the Bishop:


See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the priests as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no-one do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Church. Whatsoever the Bishop shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.


We have spent this year putting together our Vision for the future of this church and doing what John the Baptist bids us urgently do – to envisage the Kingdom of God on this earth and to work to bring it about. This coming year will, I predict, be the most momentous of our church’s recent history as we begin to harmonise the upstairs and downstairs uses of this great and holy building, enabling us to effect new ways of being the local church and forging new working relationships, new partners in the faith and reaching new constituencies. We will be restating our claim to be a church active in the service of our local community as these new opportunities for service open up. John the Baptist calls this morning for an opening up of the pathways that lead to and from God through an active willingness to make them plain. John’s voice may be seen as one still ‘crying in the spiritual wilderness’ but it is also resonant and life giving. It is the voice in harmony with God’s voice, a voice for our time and for all time and especially for this church at this God given moment in our history.


This is emphatically our present and forthcoming gaudete; our joy. We have found God in the Church and that he was and is and will remain for us, our true life’s meaning and its sure direction here, at Holy Cross and in the exciting time to come. My friends, watch and wait, as you must do this Advent, but rejoice now because the promise to come is also the promise which is being continually made in the active present.