Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent 2019
15th Dec 2019
Sermon for The Third Sunday in Advent (Year A)
We are witnesses in St Matthew’s Gospel this morning to the dialogue, conducted through intermediaries, that takes place between John the Baptist, already imprisoned, and Jesus, who receives messages from beyond the prison gates. John the Baptist’s message is very much an imprisoned message. It is constrained and tense. John is in a place of great suffering and personal dereliction. But he is clear headed and clear minded. His message to Jesus is a blunt question “Are you the Messiah, the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If he were from a particular part of this country he might be a typical blunt Yorkshireman. But he is also a divine messenger. The words of Orlando Gibbons’ musical work entitled ‘This is the Record of John’ has John always answering in the negative concerning his relation to Christ. His voice is raised far above his actual humanity and intensifies its range:
This is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What art thou then? (Art thou Elias? repeated x1) And he said, I am not. (Art thou the prophet? Repeated x2) And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, What art thou? that we may give an answer unto them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? And he said, I am the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, (Make straight the way of the Lord repeated x2).
Jesus makes comment about John to the people around him, for they had considered John to be a holy man and had gone out into the desert to seek him out: “…and what were you going out in the desert to see?” “…a reed shaken in the wind” or “someone dressed in soft robes?”. John is neither of these. He is a prophet and as Jesus tells us ‘more than a prophet’. According to Jesus, John is the first of any man yet born to women and yet he is also the less than the least in the Kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist models the figure who acts in a spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of the greater whole. For John, Jesus must ‘increase’ while he must ‘decrease’. The forms a perpetual theme when we consider John's place in the New Testament.
The person of Jesus is likewise not to be confused with any projection meeted to him by the opinions of the crowd. Jesus is the Messiah not in human status but in the realisation of the coming of God’s Kingdom, for Jesus answers John indirectly ‘…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them’. The Messiahship of Christ is the one which is embedded in the new life which Jesus himself brings about. For the Church there is great joy in this. This is why this day is gaudete, or ‘Rejoicing Sunday’, when we witness the Saviour who has now ebcome for John (and us) recognisable and realisable.
From what cause do we as Christians rejoice? John is the forerunner, the one who ‘prepares the Way’. 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 whom 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, which is a living one, in which love is its essential meaning and new life its outcome. We are working out what kind of new life may issue out of a local church like ours, which, as ‘a church turned inside out’ and toward the community we serve, may best mirror the courageous hopes of the Baptist, who has prophesied a humanity renewed in the likeness of Christ. And in that renewal is promised the deepening and the enlargement of all our relationships as we work and pray together for the Kingdom of God made recognisable and realisable in this place.
John the Baptist gifts us the Christian perspective. He is the one who proclaims the coming of the Messiah not as something vague and for the future but something which is recognisable and realisable in the here and now. He proclaims a departure from the old norm. It is a life to be lived in all its various shades and shadows, lights and glories as a dedicated life. This is gaudete; this is Christian joy. God’s loving presence promises the same grace now as when it was first received by John in prison. Jesus had, after all, given answer to all of John’s hopes in the affirmative. The prophecy had now been fulfilled. And it is in joy that our hearts echo the words of the carol
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing.
And heaven and nature sing.