Sermon for 3 Advent, Year B

I’m not preaching today, but here is one I preached on today’s readings three years ago.

I want you to use your imagination this week and use it to answer a question that I have for you to think about during the week ahead. – It is this – what would it mean to you, if God was to come.

What would it mean to you if God was to come to you?

When we read the songs and poems that fill the latter part of the book of Isaiah, we encounter someone who was intoxicated by that question. In trying to answer it, the prophet tumbles into praise, worship, song, poetry, prayer and politics. The words that we have this morning are typical – words which must have been very personal for someone become universal as they are proclaimed each year in Advent  as we, the community of God’s people wait for our Lord to come.

It is personal – the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, the prophet says – he is experiencing something very intense and personal for himself, yet it is for the whole community – a vision of what the world will be like if and when the Lord will come.

If and when. If and when. In Advent we live with the tension between hoping, longing and praying for the Lord to come and also knowing the story of the coming of the Lord – the story that we will celebrate in fullness when we gather in 10 days time to celebrate a birth.

If and when. The tension builds up in advent. There is a line in “The Importance of Being Earnest” that comes back to me this morning.

In the last scene of Oscar Wilde’s play, "The Importance of Being Earnest" the glib young lady named Gwendolyn Fairfax is waiting for Jack Worthing to find Miss Prism’s famous leather handbag, when she suddenly declares, "This suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last."

That sums up Advent in a way – the suspense is terrible, but wonderful. The king is coming – we know that his coming is certain, but yet we must watch and wait and pray.

In the church of yesteryear, this Sunday had a special name – it was called Gaudate Sunday – from the Latin for Gaudate meaning Rejoice. This is because the word for Rejoice was the first word of liturgy for the day. And special anthems were written for this Sunday to be sung by choirs and in some places there were special vestments. It was a kind of cheery day in the middle of advent – an assurance that all is not gloom as we wait for the coming king. The words of the Advent introit are drawn from scripture: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice. Rejoice – gaudate the same thing.

When we read again these words from Isaiah we must know that all is not gloom. For the prophet is clear that God is doing something new. We can warm to these ideas – there is good news for the oppressed, release to the captives, comfort for those who are mourning, new expressions of faith for the fainthearded, the rebuilding of ruined cities.

It is easy to keep our ears open to all of this for it is a very attractive vision of a whole new world. However, we must note that it only comes because God is doing something new and that means thinking a bit about the way God gets involved with the world. God is the God of yesterday, today and forever, but whenever God deals with the created world, it means that something must change forever for God’s creatures. And often we can be resistant to that idea. It is all very well for the prophet to proclaim a whole new world, but the question comes to each of us – are we willing to join in the work of rebuilding God’s kingdom and bringing it in. And are we willing to face change in order to bring it in.

And that is the nub of the matter in the gospel reading this morning.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John – yet this information does not seem to be enough for the priests and Levites from Jerusalem. And they question him. Who are you really – are you the Messiah – he answers no. Are you Elijah. He is not. Are you the prophet. He answered “No”.

What is all this about.

The identity of the questioners matters a lot here. They are the ones who are keeping the worship of the temple going in Jerusalem. They are intently interested in the worship in the temple. And, I think that what they are saying to John is this “We want to know who you are, we want to find out if you are going to upset the applecart. We want to know whether what you are proclaiming will mean change for us. Will it mean changes in the temple?” Perhaps they were more interested in the worship in the temple than God was.

For the one whom John was proclaiming. The one who was coming. The one whose coming was certain, certainly did mean change. Not just to the temple, but to people, the real walking, talking temples of God.

For John was proclaiming a king that would come within who would be born in the manger of our hearts and change the world for ever from within.

What would the world that you live in be like if God comes to you? Your hopes and dreams fulfilled. Not granted mind. Nowhere does the Lord promise to meet our whims and fancies. Fulfilment means something much deeper and much more wholesome.

It is into the depth of fulfilment that we are called in advent. To wait to watch and hope and pray for the coming of a king. The coming of one whose coming is certain and who will change everything. The coming of one who comes to bring in the kingdom and asks us to help. The coming of one to whom the prophets point in hope and expectation. The Messiah. The Lord is coming soon.


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