Monday, 10 December 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 16 December 2018,
the Third Sunday of Advent,
’Gaudete Sunday’

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fifth century mosaic in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 16 December 2018, is the Third Sunday of Advent. This Sunday is known traditionally as Gaudete Sunday, and the readings for Gaudete Sunday deal with rejoicing in the Lord – Christian joy – and the mission of Saint John the Baptist. Despite the otherwise sombre readings of the season of Advent, which has as a secondary theme the need for penitence, the readings on the third Sunday emphasise the joyous anticipation of Christ’s coming.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland for next Sunday are:

Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6) or Psalm 146: 4-7; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

There is a link to the readings HERE

‘God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ … (Luke 3: 8-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Introduction to the Readings:

In the four weeks of Advent, we recall the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Advent I), the Prophets (Advent II), Saint John the Baptist (Advent III) and the Virgin Mary (Advent IV).

On Sunday, as we think about the message of Saint John the Baptist as the Forerunner of Christ, the readings remind us of the promises proclaimed by the prophets, and Saint Paul’s promise to the Philippians of Christ is coming again.

Zephaniah invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand; Isaiah promises a future in which we ‘will draw water from the waters of salvation’; Saint Paul promises the Church in Philippi that ‘the Lord is near’; and Saint John the Baptist proclaims that ‘one who is more powerful than I is coming’ as he proclaims ‘the good news to the people.’

‘The Holy City’ … a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse in London’s East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Zephaniah 3: 14-20:

Zephaniah is one of the 12 ‘Minor Prophets,’ whose books are occasionally known collectively as the Book of the Twelve, the last book of the Nevi’im, the second main division of the Jewish Tanakh. This collection is divided into 12 individual books in the Christian Old Testament, one for each of the 12 ‘minor prophets.’

The name Zephaniah means ‘Yahweh has hidden,’ ‘Yahweh has protected,’ or ‘Yahweh hides.’ Zephaniah was a major inspiration for the mediaeval hymn Dies Irae, whose title and opening words are from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah 1: 15-16.

In his introduction to this book, Zephaniah describes himself as the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, probably the king who ruled Judah in 715-687 BC. Zephaniah’s intimate knowledge of Jerusalem and affairs in the court, and the fact that unlike other prophets he makes no denunciation of the king, suggests he is of royal descent.

He also says his ministry began in the reign of King Josiah, the great reformer.

His denunciation of corruption in religious affairs suggests that his prophecies date from before the reforms of 621 BC.

This book predicts doom for Judah for having failed to follow God’s ways, and adverse judgment on other nations, too. However, the final chapter promises comfort and consolation for the inhabitants of Jerusalem who wait patiently for the Lord and serve God as a community. They will rejoice when God comes into their midst.

Earlier in Chapter 3, the author speaks of the people of Jerusalem and their crimes. They have failed to listen to God, to accept his advice, to trust in him or to draw near to him. He has destroyed other nations as a warning to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has ignored this warning.

In spite of this, they are told, God will cause Gentiles to turn to his ways. They will serve him by allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. In an ideal future time, God will bring about the moral recovery of Jerusalem, removing the arrogant from their midst, leaving the ‘humble and lowly’ as the remnant who will be godly, and who will live in tranquillity.

Now, in this passage, the prophet invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand. God has intervened, he now dwells with his people, and he protects them.

Drawing on military image, he says God will lead Israel’s army. He will encourage the people, he will give them victory, rejoice in their return to his ways, make his love for them apparent again, and celebrate in song.

God will destroy the enemies of Jerusalem and Judah, look after those who suffer, bring the exiles home, and see that the city is honoured by all. They will see Judah’s fortunes restored.

God’s promise of coming home to the new Jerusalem means oppressors are vanquished, the lame are saved, the outcast now become insiders, shame is turned into praise, and misfortunes are reversed, in a promise that is visible to, and therefore held out to, ‘all the peoples of the earth.’

Saint John the Baptist and the Prophet Isaiah … a window in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Canticle ‘The Song of Isaiah’ (Isaiah 12: 2-6):

The Canticle ‘The Song of Isaiah’ (Isaiah 12: 2-6) is Canticle 23 in the Book of Common Prayer (2004), p 132. Note, however, that the number of the verses of the Canticle differ from the numbering of the verses in the Bible.

This passage is in a similar vein to the reading from the Prophet Zephaniah.

Verses 1 and 4 begin ‘… in that day.’ Earlier, Isaiah 11: 10 says, ‘On that day’ other nations will note that a king of David’s line, ‘the root of Jesse,’ sits on the throne of Israel. They will ask about him and the divine glory that is with him. ‘On that day,’ it tells us, God will gather the remnant, the remaining faithful, from throughout the world. So, the day is the end of the era, when the Messiah will come.

God tells the prophet or his messenger of the events that are to come, and this messenger will tell the people to give thanks for the end of God’s anger and return to his comfort.

The promise of salvation in verses 2 and 3 may refer to restoration to the Promised Land. The people will be protected by God’s ‘strength and … might.’ The promise of life-giving ‘water from the wells of salvation’ symbolises God’s saving power. The people will give thanks and proclaim the good news to all nations so that all may know of God and his actions. His people are the inhabitants of ‘royal Zion,’ who are a royal people because God, the Holy One of Israel, dwells in their midst.

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent, despite the ending ‘Glory …’ suggested in the Book of Common Prayer with this canticle.

Psalm 146: 4-7:

In Psalm 146, the Psalmist recalls that that those who hope in God’s promises will know that God keeps his promise for ever, which includes justice for those who are wronged, seeing that the hungry are fed, those who imprisoned are freed, the blind see, the oppressed lifted up, the righteous exalted, the stranger, the orphan and the widow protected, and the wicked turned away. This is the God who reigns for ever, throughout all generations.

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

Once again, note that the liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria is omitted in Advent, and that it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4: 7) … a sculpture in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Philippians 4: 4-7:

Philippi was a prosperous Roman colony in northern Greece, and Saint Paul wrote from prison to the Church there. This may have been a prison in either Ephesus or Rome, where he was held under house arrest. This epistle may be made up of three letters. It contains many personal references, urge members of the church in Philippi to live the Christian life and to show good ethical conduct. It introduces Timothy and Epaphroditus as Saint Paul’s representatives, and it warns against legalists and libertines. Saint Paul concludes by thanking the community in Philippi for their material support.

In this reading, Saint Paul warns against heresy and self-indulgence and urges his readers to show devotion to Christ.

It seems that two workers for Christ, Euodia and Syntyche, differ in their understanding of what the way of Christ is, and that this is causing disunity in the community in Philippi. Now Saint Paul wants a way to bring about reconciliation.

Saint Paul now urges his readers to behave towards one another with gentleness. He tells them to expect the Second Coming soon, for ‘the Lord is near.’ They should ask God to help them, through prayers of supplication and thanksgiving. In a prayer that is a well-known blessing, he promises that God’s peace will protect them against their own failings and the threats they face. This peace ‘surpasses all understanding,’ it is beyond the grasp of the human mind and brings with it more than we can ever expect: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (verse 7).

‘Saint John the Baptist’ by Adrienne Lord … an icon by Adrienne Lord in an exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Luke 3: 7-18:

Saint John the Baptist preached a message of forgiveness of sins and the advent of a new relationship between the people and God.

Saint Luke has already told us that ‘… the word of God came to John … in the wilderness. He went into all the region … proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins …’ (verses 2-3). Now, Saint John the Baptist addresses the crowds, telling them they are vipers and accusing them of being baptised without any intention of starting a new, ethical, life.

These people are mistaken if they think that by being baptised they are going to avoid the ‘wrath to come’ or God’s judgment at the end of time. They must also turn to godliness. Being Jewish or being a descendant of Abraham is no guarantee of salvation. Instead, anyone who responds to God’s gift of love with appropriate behaviour will be part of the renewed Israel.

The people have a choice: either they can respond to God’s offer by beginning a new way of living; or they can face condemnation at the end of time. God is going to fulfil his promises to Abraham in unexpected ways.

Saint Luke gives four examples of behaviour that exemplifies a new life. We should see to it that those who are poor have clothes and those who are hungry have food to eat. We should not pile on debts on those who cannot pay them. We should not oppress others. And if we are comfortable ourselves, then we should be satisfied with our lot. Perhaps Saint John is also reminding us that we must constantly question our own behaviour and be open to God’s way and God’s will.

At the time, people were expecting the Messiah to come at any moment. Perhaps they hoped that Saint John the Baptist was going to restore Israel’s fortunes and that God’s power would triumph in the here and now. But Saint John tells them that the baptism he offers is vastly inferior to the Baptism of Jesus, and that even he will be found unworthy when Christ comes. At that time, the godly will be gathered to Christ but the ungodly will be destroyed.

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a depiction in stucco in the Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra on Francis Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 7-18:

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11 In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12 Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13 He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14 Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in a church in the mountain village of Maroulas, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Violet (Purple) or Pink.

On Gaudete Sunday, many churches use rose-coloured vestments instead of the violet of Advent, so that Gaudete Sunday is also known in some places as ‘Rose Sunday.’ In churches that have an Advent wreath, the rose coloured candle is lit in addition to the two of the violet (or blue) candles lit on the previous two Sundays. In Anglican Churches, the use of rose-pink was formally noted as an option in the Church of England with the liturgical renewal introduced in Common Worship.

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

Third Sunday of Advent, 16 December 2018 (Pink Candle):

Saint John the Baptist


Lord Jesus, your cousin John
prepared the way for your coming.
Bless all who speak out against
injustice and wrong:
so may the light of your truth
burn brightly, and the world become
a fairer and just home for all.

(A prayer from USPG)

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Advent Collect:

The Advent Collect is said after the Collect of the Day until Christmas Eve:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Father,
we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

‘We give you thanks for these heavenly gifts’ (Post-Communion Prayer) … an icon screen in the parish church in Kalamitsi Alexandrou, a mountain village in western Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for this Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000) edited by Bishop Edward Darling include:

Zephaniah 3: 14-20:

86, Christ is the King! O friends, rejoice
646, Glorious things of thee are spoken
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!

The Canticle ‘The Song of Isaiah’ (Isaiah 12: 2-6):

370, Stand up, and bless the Lord
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

Psalm 146: 4-7:

4, God, who made the earth
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
357, I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99, Jesus, the name high over all
535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
363, O Lord of heaven and earth and sea
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
8, The Lord is king! Lift up your voice
376, Ye holy angels bright

Philippians 4: 4-7:

349, Fill thou my life, O Lord my God
225, In the cross of Christ I glory
16, Like a mighty river flowing
636, May the mid of Christ my saviour
507, Put peace unto each other’s hands
281, Rejoice, the Lord is king!
627, What a friend we have in Jesus

Luke 3: 7-18:

419, I am not worthy, holy Lord
303, Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
306, O Spirit of the living God
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
341, Spirit divine, attend our prayers
204, When Jesus came to Jordan

‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ (Hymn 136) Saint John the Baptist (left) and Saint George in a stained glass window in the Chapel of the Hospital of Saint the Baptist in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Continuing Ministerial Education:
January workshop
on Celtic Spirituality

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate on a wall in a side chapel in Glenstal Abbey … the training day in Askeaton on 14 January explores Celtic Spirituality (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The continuing education programme for all clergy and readers in the diocese resumes in January, with workshops on Celtic Spirituality in the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick, on Monday 14 January 2019. These workshops are being facilitated by the Rev Ann-Marie Stuart and the Revd Isabel Keegan.

The February programme, on Monday 11 February, looks at the practice of the Jesus Prayer and using icons in prayer.

These programmes are offered in two sessions: from 11 am to 3.30 for day-time participants, and from 7 pm to 9.30 pm for people in ministry who are also in secular ministry.

Tea/coffee/biscuits are provided, but participants are asked to bring sandwiches.

In November, the Revd Rod Smyth of Nenagh introduced a workshop on the choice of hymns, canticles and music, which is often a difficult task for clergy and readers alike.

Rod tackled the thorny problems faced by people who have difficulty in selecting hymns for Sundays, and offered advice about appropriate hymns for Advent, as well as Baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Meanwhile, Canon Patrick Comerford publishes online resources every Monday morning that are suitable for clergy and readers planning services the following Sunday. These are available online at: https://cmelimerick.blogspot.com/

This news report is published in the December 2018/ January 2019 edition of ‘Newslink’ the magazine of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert

Monday, 3 December 2018

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 9 December 2018,
the Second Sunday of Advent

‘Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command’ (Baruch 5: 7-8) … the yew tree walk at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 9 December 2018, the Second Sunday of Advent.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted for use in the Church of Ireland for next Sunday are:

Baruch 5: 1-9 or Malachi 3: 1-4; The Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.

Last Sunday (2 December 2018), on the First Sunday of Advent, we began a new Church Year, and the beginning of a new cycle of lectionary readings this year, Year C, drawing mainly on Saint Luke’s Gospel.

Note that next Sunday’s readings provide for the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79) rather than a Psalm, and that because the Old Testament reading is from the Apocrypha, an alternative is available from the Book of Malachi.

These readings can be found HERE

Baruch 5: 1-9:

The Book of Baruch is set during the Babylonian exile, soon after 600 BC, when some Jews had been deported to Babylon and others had been dispersed around the Mediterranean. However, this book was probably written between 200 and 60 BC. It is attributed to Baruch, the friend and secretary of Jeremiah.

Both Jeremiah and Baruch are said to have been taken to Egypt in 582 BC (see Jeremiah 43:1-7). However, a later tradition says that Baruch went to Babylon.

As with several books in the Apocrypha, most of this book is compiled of passages copied or paraphrased from other books in the Old Testament books. The passage Baruch 1: 15 to 2: 19 is largely a reinterpretation of Daniel 9: 4-19, so Baruch was written after the Book of Daniel.

The Book of Baruch is set in the time of the Exile. Earlier, the author says the Exile took place because many Jews did not obey the Law of Moses. The words are spoken by Jerusalem, the personified mother of the nation. She is a prophet of events to come. God, she says, has noted the people’s return to obedience to him, so the time of the return home is imminent. The time of the city’s mourning for the loss of her children is nearing its end.

In Sunday’s passage (Baruch 5: 1-9), Baruch responds to these words from Jerusalem, and cries out to Jerusalem in exile. It is time to remove mourning attire, to don forever splendid garments given by God, guarantees and symbols of harmony, security and prosperity.

Exodus tells us that Aaron as priest, wore a diadem or mitre inscribed ‘Holy to the Lord,’ a symbol of divine regal splendour. Now Jerusalem becomes a priest of the Everlasting God, succeeding Aaron, as a sign of God’s power.

The city will receive two titles forever, ‘Righteous Peace’ and ‘Godly Glory.’ From now on, Jerusalem will be a place where justice and peace prevail and where God’s glory will be seen.

From verse 5, Baruch tells of a procession, a pilgrimage to the holy city. The exiles will return from Babylon in the east and from elsewhere. God has spoken the word and has remembered them. They left the city on foot, but now they will return regally, as if borne on thrones.

Baruch then echoes Isaiah (see Isaiah 40: 3-4), words that are repeated with joy in the Gospel reading (Luke 3: 1-6). A road will be levelled through the desert, so the exiles can return safely. The road will be lined with trees that grow miraculously at God’s command. God will be with the exiles with his mercy and his righteousness.

For a people in exile, who find themselves in a culture that is not their own, how do they leave what they have in the present, how do they maintain their hopes from the past, and how do they look forward to the future?

These are questions of anticipation and hope in this season of Advent. Baruch says it is time to end the mourning and to look forward in hope to the future.

Could this be true for us this Advent?

How do we turn from the gloom and fears of the present day to hope for reconciliation and peace?

What would we see in this vision for the future?

An icon of the Birth of Saint the Baptist from the Monastery of Anopolis in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Canticle Benedictus:

The Canticle Benedictus is the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79), provided as the Third Canticle at Morning Prayer and as Canticles 7 and 8 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Zechariah the priest has been struck dumb when he hears that in her old age his wife Elizabeth is pregnant with a child – the child who is to become Saint John the Baptist, who is the focus of our Gospel reading.

After his birth, his parents bring him to be circumcised and named. Elizabeth favours the name John and Zechariah agrees. Now Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks this song of prophecy we know in the Anglican tradition as Benedictus – from the Latin word for ‘Blessed.’

This song tells us of God’s blessing for his people. God is to give them a mighty saviour who will save them from sin. This descendant of David is the fulfilment of promises of the prophets of old, and he will rescue the people from their enemies.

God is fulfilling his promises, made first as an oath with Abraham, and they shall no longer live in fear of his wrath. John the Baptist, who will be thought to be like Elijah, and he will bring the people to a godly, way of living, preparing the way for the Lord.

Christ is ‘the dawn from on high’ that ‘break upon us,’ the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for humanity. At a time when hopes are at a low ebb and people are particularly in need, ‘in darkness and the shadow of death,’ he will be a beacon guiding us ‘into the way of peace.’

The dawn from on high shall break upon us. To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of peace and to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Benedictus) … a December sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Philippians 1: 3-11:

Philippi was the centre of Saint Paul’s first mission in continental Europe. It would become an important early centre of the Church in a world that did not yet know Christ or the message of salvation.

On Sunday next, we read from Saint Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi. This is one of the most positive and encouraging letters of all the Pauline epistles, and Saint Paul’s words are powerful and visionary. In this letter, he offers us a vision of what Church is to be – the very kingdom of God on earth. He believes in a world transformed and reordered by love and grace, in response to love and grace. He believes that in Christ our love will overflow ourselves to one another.

Saint Paul’s vision of the Church is one in which we as the Church recognise that Christ is doing good work in the lives of the other. He writes to the Philippians telling them that his prayer that their love may be so generous that it overflows more and more, so that when Christ returns at his Advent, they will have produced the harvest that gives glory and praise to God.

As baptised members of the Church, we are marked as Christ’s own forever. We belong to God, God has claimed us, and we are ‘the saints of God.’

Following his opening greeting, Saint Paul thanks God for the Christians at Philippi, praying with joy because of their sharing in spreading the good news, from the day of their conversion.

This vision of the community of the baptised is a reminder that for Christians the hallmark of our community is to one of grace and peace. We are inheritors of this godly vision for community.

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Luke 3: 4) … a tree-lined pathway in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 3: 1-6:

Saint Luke places the events in his Gospel firmly and historically in the time of particular rulers, both political and religious. The ministry of Saint John the Baptist and of Christ are incarnational and take place in real time, in history.

What is to come is a new authority that is inaugurated in very real time and is measured by grace and not power, a challenge to the people of God and to the authorities of the world. It is a time of renewal linked to the past, lived in the present and looking forward to the future.

The words of Saint John the Baptist are not only for a people long ago but words for us today.

Saint John the Baptist is announcing judgment at the end of the era and the beginning of a new pact with God that is available to all. He travels throughout the Jordan Valley, preaching a return to God’s ways and being ethically and spiritually renewed. He quotes from the Prophecy of Isiah we have already heard quoted by Baruch (see Isaiah 40: 3-5).

However, Saint Luke makes one change in the quotation: the word ‘his’ (verse 4) emphasises that it is for Christ that John prepares the way. For Saint Luke, all flesh, all people all people will have the opportunity to be rescued from sin.

The world is a place and we find our home as foreigners in a strange land, longing for the Kingdom of God present, and not yet fully realised. In the wilderness, we long to hear the voice crying out, to hear that we are welcome.

As we heard in the canticle, Saint John the Baptist is the agent to fulfil the promises of the prophets (see Isaiah 40: 3; Malachi 3: 1, 4: 5).

Christ who is coming at Advent is bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and is the living word who brings the promise of transformation and change.

Saint John makes his proclamation to the whole world. The whole of creation will be remade, the world of authority will be turned upside down, the word of salvation will raise up new children of God, and even the stones will shout as the kingdom message becomes a message of embrace and love, with a new order of family and kinship that embraces all people.

In this season of Advent, how do we connect with the real world which is wilderness for so many people?

How do we encourage people in our churches to take the promise of the Kingdom of God outside the walls of the church building, to take the Gospel of grace into the world around us, proclaiming Christ and the opportunity of hope and joy and transformation that he brings with him at his coming?

‘… the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth’ (Luke 3: 5) … a rough way made smooth in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSV):

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.’

‘Make way, make way for Christ the King’ (Hymn 134) … a straight pathway lined with trees in Kilmore, near Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical resources:

Liturgical colour: Purple (Violet)

The Advent Candle, the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):

The Prophets


Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of Fifth Sunday before Advent may be used:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Advent Collect is said after the Collect of the Day until Christmas Eve:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

The Triptych of Saint John the Baptist and the Baptism of Christ in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

Saint John the Baptist depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for this Sunday in Sing to the Word (2000) edited by Bishop Edward Darling include:

Baruch 5: 1-9:

418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness

Malachi 3, 1-4:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
331, God reveals his presence
634, Love divine, all loves excelling
134, Make way, make way for Christ the King
640, Purify my heart

The Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79):

685, Blessed be the God of Israel
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
706, O bless the God of Israel

Philippians 1: 3-11:

518, Bind us together, Lord
413, Father, we thank thee who hast planted
567, Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
588, Light of the minds that know him
81, Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided
601, Teach me, my God and King

Luke 3: 1-6:

126, Hark! a thrilling voice in sounding
134, Make way, make way for Christ the King
306, O Spirit of the living God
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
204, When Jesus came to Jordan

‘When Jesus came to Jordan’ (Hymn 2014) … the fifth century mosaic of the Baptism of Christ in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘The dawn from on high shall break upon us. To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of peace and to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Benedictus) … a winter sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)