Moving Forward into the Light

Sermon for Third Sunday of Advent
Year B – December 13, 2020
Deacon Patricia M. O’Connell

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

It is the Third Sunday of Advent. We are halfway to the great feast that is Christmas. We are ever moving forward into the great light that is Jesus, the Light of the World.

On the First Sunday of Advent, Pastor Barbara set the tone of our Advent season for us. She spoke about the counter-culture aspect of Christianity and described how as the days are getting shorter and darker, in the church we are slowly bringing up the light. She contrasted a personal story about being in the fog, her experience of fear in that darkness and her feeling that the possibility of the end was imminent with the comforting words of Paul to the Corinthians “that they would be alright because they could look around and know they have Christ in their hearts and in their lives already.” The take-away from her sermon to us was that as we anticipate the arrival of our Lord, though there be darkness, our wait for the fulfillment of our faith-filled lives is done in the light of knowing that we have Christ in our hearts and our lives already.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, Pastor Barbara spoke about the need to prepare for things and the importance of being ready for the big experiences in our lives. She told us the story of a family who lived at Muckross House in Killarney, Ireland and how they went bankrupt preparing for a visit from the Queen of England. She reflected about John the Baptist standing by the Jordan River,  as one who was appointed by God to put people on notice, demanding that people prepare through repentance, forgiveness of their sins,  and baptism.

Addressing that day’s lessons from Isaiah and Mark, Pastor Barbara spoke about the assurances that come from taking the steps of repentance and forgiveness. And how like John the Baptist, we are called to be “heralds of mercy and radical good news.” Her principal message being: be ready with the lights on and the kettle boiling. When we do so, we do not need to worry about going bankrupt. In God, we will always have what we need.

On this Third Sunday of Advent the light grows with a third candle, the Candle of Joy, being lit on our Advent wreaths. The joy-filled message to us is one of listening to the voice that can be heard in the wilderness, stepping up the call for preparedness, and identifying with the increasing light of Christ that shines forth, even as the days grow shorter and events seemingly shroud us in darkness. It is embracing a faith that believes in the paraphrased words of Isaiah “the spirit of the Lord God is upon us, because the Lord has anointed us”.

It is believing what Pastor Barbara said about being “heralds of mercy and radical good news.” We are indeed each called, as is stated in Isaiah today, to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and comfort to all who mourn. The message of what we are to do to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord is very clear in these words.  Each one of us must decide for ourselves how they apply to us individually and then collectively as a community.

It is accepting as well that we have been “clothed with the garments of salvation”, and “covered with the robe of righteousness.” That is what it means for us to believe that Christ is already here in our midst, in our hearts.

It is acknowledging with the psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us.” (Psalm 126:3)

The light that is growing ever more brightly this Advent season is the waxing of our faith-filled lives. By this light, our preparations, the ways in which we make ourselves ready for whatever is coming our way, do not leave us needy or bankrupt. The light raises our awareness of who we are as the chosen people of God and what our God expects of us.

Paul told the Thessalonians what the will of God in Christ Jesus was for them. It is also what is expected of us. Paul said to do this, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” And he also had a list of admonitions. Paul said do not do these things, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” This is what it means to live as a people who have put on the garment of salvation and who herald the good news with a righteousness that comes from God, not from one’s own self.

Paul gave voice to what he understood to be the will of God in Christ Jesus for us. And that is what John the Baptist had done as well.

John the Baptist, the herald of the light, he who was sent by God to testify to the light.  John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” John the Baptist, the consummate personification of the counter-culturist setting the world straight.

In Mark’s gospel, John was introduced as the messenger foretold in Isaiah. He was described as one who “appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He “was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” By any standards, he appeared to be eccentric, though, people went out to the river Jordan to see him, to hear his message of repentance and to be baptized by him.

And clearly, it wasn’t just the people who found him intriguing and made their way to see him and hear him speak. Today, in the gospel according to the evangelist John, the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem out to question him and to find out for themselves just who he was. And in response to their questioning, John had this to say, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”

I can imagine that to the ears of those priests and Levites, these words of John would have struck fear into their hearts, the fear of not knowing who it was of whom John spoke. Fortunately, that is not the case for us. We have Christ in our hearts and in our lives already.

We were put on notice by John. By being watchful, amending our lives and following the will of God for us, we will be prepared when the time comes for the arrival of Christ in all his glory. By keeping the light in our lives aflame, we will be ready to receive the fullness of that glory in Jesus Christ, our Lord.

We anticipate the second coming of our Lord with the knowledge that we are the chosen people of God, a joyful people who walk in the light of faith, who move forward into the great light that is Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.

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