Monday, 11 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 17 December 2017

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

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [17 December 2017] is the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B), which is known in many parts of the Church as ‘Gaudete Sunday.’

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday are: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or the Canticle Magnificat; I Thessalonians 5: 16-24; and John 1: 6-8, 19-28.

There is a direct link to the readings here.


On this Sunday, we light the third, pink candle on the Advent Wreath, and the prayers and readings reflections might usefully provide a focus in our reflections or sermons on Saint John the Baptist.

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete (‘Rejoice’), the first word of the traditional entrance antiphon or introit for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper:
iterum dico, gaudete.
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Dominus enim prope est.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum.
Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

This may be translated as:

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice.
Let your forbearance be known to all,
for the Lord is near at hand;
have no anxiety about anything,
but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.
Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

In many churches, rose-coloured vestments are worn on Gaudete Sunday instead of the violet of Advent. In some Anglican traditions, ‘Sarum Blue’ is used instead.

Blue as a liturgical colour represents hopefulness. The use of blue at this time of the year as a liturgical colour in some Christian traditions is found in the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the mediaeval Sarum Rite in England. While Sarum had blue for Advent, Lichfield had black or possibly blue, Exeter had violet, Wells had azure, dark blue or even a bright blue or purple, while Liverpool had lilac.

The colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates to the eighth century, and the Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent. In his classic on liturgy, Percy Dearmer explains that violet can range from purple through to blue. But then I remember the old playground rhyme: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue …’ So I have a blue stole for Advent, with touches of red, rose and violet … and even a touch of black.

The tradition of substituting violet with rose or pink, which was observed informally in the past by Anglicans, is provided as an option in the Church of England in Common Worship.

Similarly, the rose-coloured candle is lit on the Advent wreath on Gaudete Sunday, alongside the two violet or blue candles from the first two Sundays of Advent.

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11:

The Old Testament reading (Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11), which was probably written after the return from Exile in Babylon, looks forward to the total salvation of God’s people – bodily, spiritually, individually and socially. The prophet says God has empowered and anointed him to act on God’s behalf.

Verses 1b to 2 are quoted by Christ when he preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4: 18-19). ‘The year of the Lord’s favour’ (verse 2; see Leviticus 25:10) refers to the jubilee year, a year dedicated to God, when all shall be free to return home to their families, and a year of rest when the land produces without being sown or worked.

Verses 4-7 tell us that strangers or foreigners from all nations are to contribute to the restoration of righteousness on earth. They will be double blessed and have eternal joy, and God’s agreement will last for ever.

In verses 10-11, the prophet speaks as the renewed Jerusalem. All will rejoice because God has provided salvation and has healed their rift with God, and the people will praise God as an example for ‘all the nations.’

Psalm 126:

The Psalm is a liturgical song for use in public worship. When the people first returned from exile in Babylon, they could hardly believe their good fortune. But after the initial joy, life is difficult, and they ask God to restore their fortunes.

The Canticle ‘Magnificat’:

The lectionary offers the Canticle Magnificat as an alternative to the psalm on this Sunday. However, if it is not used this Sunday, it should be used the following Sunday instead of the psalm.

The ‘O Antiphons’ (see below) were written as daily introits to the Canticle Magnificat in the last week of Advent, and offer the opportunity for reflective introductions to the use of this canticle on this Sunday.

Saint Paul preaching to the Thessalonians … a fresco in the Cathedral in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Saint Paul is drawing near the end of his first letter to the Church and the early Christians in Thessaloniki. God’s plan for them, realised in Christ, is to rejoice always, to make their lives a continual prayer, and to be thankful to God, whatever happens to them.

Saint Paul tells them not to suppress manifestations of the Holy Spirit, not to despise the words of prophets or words of consolation and warnings spoken by members who receive messages from God, and not to ignore predictions of future events.

They are to be aware that there are true and false prophets. Some speak God’s word authentically, but others who do not and are false or evil. We must take care and test or discern all supposed manifestations of the Spirit (‘test everything,’ verse 21).

Finally, Saint Paul prays that God, who brings peace in the community and promises eternal peace in his kingdom, may bring them into union with him. Their relationships with God and with one another must worthy of the kingdom when Christ comes again.

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove … part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 6-8, 19-28:

Although the readings in Year B are a journey through Saint Mark’s Gospel, there is a digression on this Sunday as we read the account in Saint John’s Gospel of the Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist in the River Jordan.

In the opening verses of his Gospel, Saint John tells us, that the Word, the Logos, in other words, what God says, God in action, God creating, God revealing and redeeming, exists before all time. He is the force behind all that exists; he causes physical and spiritual life to be; life, goodness and light overcomes all evil. Christ, the ‘light’ (verse 7), took on being human through God, and is a force for goodness, light, godliness, for all people.

Now he tells of Saint John the Baptist, who is sent or commissioned by God to point to Christ, to ‘testify to the light’ (verse 7). Saint John the Baptist is the lamp that illumines the way, but Christ is the light (verse 8).

When the religious authorities (verse 19) send their representatives, priests and Levites, to assess John’s authenticity as a religious figure, John tells them that he is neither of the two figures they are expecting to come to earth: he is neither ‘the Messiah’ (verse 20) nor the returned ‘Elijah’ (verse 21). At that time, Jews believed that one or both would establish a kingdom on earth that would be free of Roman domination.

Neither is John the prophet some expected would be instrumental in establishing the Messiah’s kingdom. Saint John says simply that he is the one who prepares ‘the way of the Lord’ (verse 23), who announces the Messiah’s coming, fulfilling the promise in Isaiah 40: 3.

The representatives of the Pharisees ask John in verse 25 why he is performing an official rite without official status. John tells them that the one to whom he points is already on earth. He is so great that for his part John protests he is not even worthy to be his slave.

The setting for this story is interesting, for it all takes place outside Israel (see verse 28).

Some years ago, I was recording a television programme for Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level, broadcast on RTÉ [Sunday 7 December 2014]. I was part of a panel of four, and in the test run beforehand, each of us was asked how to be addressed, and for titles for the on-screen captions.

We can become very precious about our titles in the Church of Ireland … ‘Reverend’ … ‘Very Reverend’ … ‘Right Revd’ … Canon … Professor … Dr … Dean … Archdeacon … Your Grace … My Lord … and so on.

In terms of respect for the office, or in terms of shorthand descriptions of someone’s function in the Church, they serve a purpose. But respect is not a right, it must be earned, and when we start standing on our dignity, taking ourselves too seriously, something has gone wrong.

I figure if I am known to God by the name I was baptised with, Patrick, then all Christians should feel perfectly at ease in calling me that.

And in terms of office, I should never forget that I too am one of the laos, the People of God, by virtue of my baptism, and that I remain a deacon, someone who was first ordained to serve.

Saint John the Baptist is self-effacing about himself; he is aware of his role, and he refuses to exaggerate it; yet, on the other hand, to descend to self-abasement.

He sees his own ministry as one of waiting and preparing. He is a man sent from God, he is a witness testifying to the light, but he is not the light himself, and he is quick to dispel any confusion. He is not the Messiah, he is not the Prophet Elijah, who was expected to come again. All he says about himself is that he is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness the words first spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lamb seated on the Throne … a fresco on a ceiling in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Have you noticed the terms Saint John the Baptist uses to describe Christ outside this Gospel reading?

● ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1: 29 and 36): This title is given to Christ at the beginning of his public ministry as he approaches Saint John the Baptist, and is repeated the next day. It has resonances of the Passover, so Saint John’s Gospel begins with Christ being hailed as the Lamb of God and closes with his death as the Paschal Lamb is sacrificed in the Temple. This title speaks to us, therefore, of self-sacrifice, revealing a God who suffers for and with us.

● ‘The one who existed before John’ (verse 30).

● ‘The Son of God’ (John 1: 34): The two acclamations of Christ as ‘the Lamb of God’ enclose or bookend his other proclamation (John 1:34): ‘I have borne witness that this is the Son of God’ or ‘God’s Chosen One’ (verse 34). This is the first time in this Gospel that Christ is given the messianic title of ‘the Son of God.’ The title of ‘The Son of God’ is another reference to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

Saint John’s description of Christ as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ presents Christ as the Servant of God described in Isaiah as being led without complaint like a lamb before the shearers, a man who ‘bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors’ (see Isaiah 53: 7-12). But this is also read, with the benefit of hindsight, as a reference to the Lamb sacrificed at Passover – in Saint John’s Gospel, the crucifixion takes place at the same time as the Passover.

But the Lamb of God who is taking away not just my sin, not just our sin, not just the sin of many, of Christians, or those we judge as transgressors – not even the sin of the world, but the sin of the cόσμος (kosmos), the whole created order.

There is a difference in translations that speak of the ‘sins of the world’ and the ‘sin of the world.’

The word in verse 29 is the singular sin of the cosmos: ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. The word indicates being without a share in something, in this case God’s intention or design, or missing the mark.

So often the world has missed the mark in terms of shaping up to Gods plan and intention for the whole creation, the whole cosmos.

Saint John also describes Christ (verse 30) as one who ‘existed before me’ (RSV) or who ‘was before me’ (NRSV), reflecting a recurring theme in Johannine literature of the pre-existence of the Word.

But who do the disciples say Christ is?

Later, they are to give three very different descriptions from those given by Saint John the Baptist:

● Rabbi or Teacher (verse 38);

● the one to see and follow (verse (verse 39);

● the Messiah or the anointed one (verse 41).

Who is Christ for you?

Robert Spence (1871-1964), ‘Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield,’ depicts George Fox preaching barefooted in the Market Square in Lichfield 1651 … George Fox challenged his followers to say who Christ is for them (Lichfield Heritage Centre)

Who is Christ for you? This is a question each and every one of us must ask ourselves anew time and time again.

He must be more than a good rabbi or teacher, because the expectations of a good religious leader or a good teacher change over time.

In this time of Advent, can you ask who is the Coming Messiah for me?

At the time, many people had false expectations of the Coming Messiah.

We may see the difference between how Saint John, near the end of his ministry, describes Christ, and how the disciples, at the beginning of answering Christ’s call, describe Christ. But who is Christ for you?

George Fox, the founding Quaker, challenged his contemporaries: ‘You may say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

Who is Christ for you?

Is he a personal saviour?

One who comforts you?

Or is he more than that for you?

Who do you say Christ is?

It is a question that challenges Saint Peter later in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 16: 15). Not who do others say he is, but who do you say Christ is?

I find it is a beautiful presentation in Saint John’s Gospel that the beginning of Christ’s ministry is set out over six days. And on the seventh day of that new beginning we have a sabbath – God rests; Christ goes to the wedding at Cana, the third of the Epiphany moments. And there we have a sign, a sacrament, a token of the complete transformation of the created order, a sacramental or symbolic token of the heavenly banquet (John 2: 1-12).

Who is Christ for you?

Is Christ inviting you to the heavenly banquet, to enjoy the new creation, to be in partnership with him, as the Lamb of God, in the renewal of the cosmos?


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:

This 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:

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.

Liturgical resources:

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

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)


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:


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

The ‘O Antiphons’:

The O Antiphons, which traditionally begin on Sunday next [17 December] are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, and also serve as the Gospel acclamations.

On the evening of 17 December, as begin reflecting on the O Antiphons, we are looking forward not just to Christmas – although we are looking forward to that too – but to a time of rejoicing. For, as the Epistle reading this Sunday says:

‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you … May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, 23).

Each of these Antiphons begins with an ‘O’ and relates to some facet of Christ’s nature and ancestry, so that as the week draws us to Christmas the note of longing love and desire intensifies:

17 December: O Sapientia, O Wisdom;
18 December: O Adonai , O Lord of Israel;
19 December: O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse.
20 December: O Clavis David, O Key of David.
21 December: O Oriens, O Morning Star rising in the East.
22 December: O Rex Gentium, O King of all nations.
23 December: O Emmanuel, O Emmanuel, God is with us.

The Advent Wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent (The Pink Candle):

The Advent Wreath:

On the Advent Wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent, the rose-coloured or pink candle, symbolising Saint John the Baptist, is lit alongside the two violet candles, symbolising the Patriarchs and the Prophets.

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first purple candle to light on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent was the Purple Candle, recalling the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The second purple candle, which we lit on the Second Sunday, represents the Prophets. The third, rose-coloured or pink candle, which we light on the Third Sunday of Advent, represents Saint John the Baptist.

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the third candle:

O God of justice,
whose servant John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming;
we pray for the medical mission of the Church of Bangladesh
as it prepares the way for prematurely born children.
Bless the babies from different faiths who share the warmth of a common incubator.
May their world become a fair and just home for all.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11:

218: And can it be that I should gain
494: Beauty for brokenness
481: God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year
324: God, whose almighty word
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed
569: Hark, my soul! it is the Lord
124: Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
418: Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
574: I give you all the honour
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
671: Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
134: Make way, make way for Christ the King
706: O bless the God of Israel
104: O for a thousand tongues to sing

Psalm 126:

567: Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
356: I will sing, I will sing a song unto the Lord
712: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373: To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Alternative Canticle, ‘Magnificat’:

704: Mary sang a song, a song of love
712: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373: To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

I Thessalonians 5: 16-24:

455: Go forth for God, go forth to the world in peace
631: God be in my head
303: Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
634: Love divine, all loves excelling
639: O thou, who camest from above
341: Spirit divine, attend our prayers
446: Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
73: The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
145: You servants of the Lord

John 1: 6-8, 19-28:

381: God has spoken – by his prophets
126: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
124: Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes

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