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The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, is December 13, 2020.

Gaudete is the Latin word for ‘rejoice’. Until the ninth century, Advent began on St Martin’s feast day, November 11. The season was one of self-denial and penitence, just as Lent is. Therefore, Gaudete Sunday offered a welcome reprieve from various spiritual disciplines before Christmas. The equivalent Sunday in Lent is Laetare Sunday. Traditionally, the priest wears a rose coloured vestment on both Sundays.

You can read more about Gaudete Sunday below:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

Having posted most, though not all, of the readings for the three Lectionary years, it is now time to delve into the readings.

The Gospel reading for this day is John 1:6-8, 19-28 (emphases mine):

John 1:6-8, 19-28

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

1:20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

1:25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

If certain verses are familiar, that is because they also feature in Mark’s Gospel account of John the Baptist, which I discussed last week:

Second Sunday of Advent — Year B — Mark 1:1-8

Note how John describes John the Baptist as a ‘man sent from God’ (verse 6).

Although he appears in the New Testament, he was the final prophet of the Old Testament, that long era before Christ’s ministry.

In fact, John the Baptist was the first prophet God’s people had had in 400 years.

John the Baptist came to announce the coming of Christ, ‘the light’, and to prepare people for His ministry (verse 7).

Students of John’s Gospel know that he made much use of the words ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ throughout his account.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

“That all men through him–that is through John the Baptist–might believe in that light.” In other words, he came to draw people to him that through his testimony they might believe in that light. He was not that light but was sent to give testimony of that light. And John the Apostle is saying He is the eternal one proven by creation, He is the revealed one proven by light in the midst of darkness, He is the promised one proven by the fact that the greatest of all prophets said He is the one. That’s verification. And the gospel of John is loaded with that. John calls the testimony of the Father on behalf of the incarnation, the testimony of the words and works of the Lord, the testimony of Old Testament Scripture, the testimony of people who met Him, the testimony of the disciples and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. And then here begins that whole string of testimony with the testimony of John the Baptist…the first witness listed in the gospel of John. He testifies that the logos [the Word] has come and is the true light in the world.

John the Gospel writer makes it clear that John the Baptist knew that his purpose was to announce Christ, the light (verse 9). He had always said that he himself was not the light.

The Lectionary reading then skips to verse 19 and the first mention of ‘the Jews’ in John’s account.

John MacArthur explains that whenever John used ‘the Jews’, he meant those of the hierarchy, the Sanhedrin, who refused to believe that Christ is the Messiah:

You’re going to meet in this opening section the people who rejected the Lord, the people who were disinterested in Christ. They’re a delegation that you first meet in verse 19, it says, “The Jews sent to Him priests and Levites from Jerusalem.” So Jerusalem is a sort of a religion central. The Sanhedrin runs the religious system. The Sanhedrin is the Jewish council of seventy elders plus the high priests, and they call the shots religiously in that apostate religion. The term “the Jews,” that is a term you will see seventy times in the gospel of John. It is never used ethnically. It is never used racially. It is always used in one sense: it is used to identify the enemies of Jesus. It’s John’s choice term. You don’t find it in the other gospels. You find it here in the gospel of John. It is the term that John uses for the religious establishment, the religious elite from the high priest all the way down to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, priests—everybody else who were the duly constituted leaders of apostate Judaism who resented, hated Christ and ultimately were responsible for handing Him over to the Romans to be executed. So you meet in this passage right away, right at the beginning in the first verse of the historical account of the gospel of John, the faithless people. And you’re going to see them all the way through. You’re going to see these people…I said…seventy times this term is used, and it always refers to the enemies of Jesus.

The priests and Levites asked John the Baptist who he was.

He ‘confessed and did not deny’ that he was not the Messiah (verse 20).

MacArthur says that those words are difficult to translate from Greek into English. In Greek, the inference is that John the Baptist was angry at the question:

In verse 20 “he confessed and didn’t deny,” but confessed. And by the way, that’s an English way of trying to translate the Greek, which is very, very strong. He was outraged. He was livid at that question. “He confessed and didn’t deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am not the Christ.’”

It is possible that John the Baptist was angry because he knew the hierarchy were not interested in salvation. They wanted the Messiah to be a temporal king:

They weren’t looking for a lamb; they weren’t looking for a sacrifice; they weren’t looking for someone to take the wrath of God. They were looking for a King because they thought they were okay. That was a modest commitment to repentance for the sake of John and for the sake of being ready for the Messiah. But there was no sense in which they were looking for a Savior.

They goaded John the Baptist with more questions about his identity (verses 21, 22).

They asked if he was Elijah because that prophet was supposed to return to announce the Messiah:

Before the arrival of Messiah will come Elijah. But it is before Messiah’s coming to judge. So we can say this, just for our understanding, that Elijah will come before the Lord’s Second Coming in judgment. Some would equate him with one of the witnesses of Revelation 11, verse 3, the two witnesses that come at the end. Elijah never died. Is that not true? He went to heaven. What? Yeah, he went to heaven in a chariot. So Elijah will come before the return of the Lord in the great and terrible day. So they say, “Are you Elijah?” Does this mean this is the coming of the King? And, of course, they thought the judgment would be upon the ungodly nations and they would be given the kingdom. And he says to them, “No, I’m not. I’m not.”

You say, “Well wait a minute, wait a minute. Why would he say I’m not?” Because he wasn’t. He was John the Baptist. He didn’t exist before he was born. He’s not recycled Elijah. However—and here’s what you have to understand—the angel said he will come “in the spirit and power of Elijah”; with that kind of prophetic power and effect, turning people’s hearts back to God.

So understand it this way: two comings of Christ. The first coming he is preceded by one in the spirit and power of Elijah. Second Coming, he’s preceded by Elijah. So John is not the Elijah, but he is the one who comes in the spirit and power of Elijah. And it’s pretty clear throughout the testimony of Matthew and Luke that they understood that—that John was not Elijah but he was the one who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. You remember the great prophet who spoke the Word of God.

John the Baptist quoted Isaiah in his response: the voice in the wilderness crying out to ‘make straight the way of the Lord’ (verse 23).

He could have answered the priests and Levites differently, because he was conceived and born under special circumstances, but he didn’t. He showed humility:

“I’m the son of Zacharias, the esteemed priest. I’m the greatest man who ever lived, by the way. I’m a man who was, just for your information, filled with the Holy Spirit when I was still in my mother’s womb. He doesn’t say any of that, he just says, “I’m a voice.” “I’m a voice.” Just a voice. It reminds me of Luke 17:10 where it says that when we’ve done everything we ought to have done, we ought to say we’re only an unprofitable servant, I’m a slave—just a voice, just a voice. But I am a voice that is unique. “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” I am a voice, but I am a voice fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 40, verses 3 to 5. I am the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 through 5.

And what did Isaiah mean when he said “The voice of one crying in the wilderness?” Isaiah was talking about the coming of Messiah, and that before the Messiah would come He would be preceded by a voice crying in the wilderness: “Make the way of the Lord clear; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low; let the rough ground become a plain, and the rugged terrain a broad valley; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” That’s a prophecy of John the Baptist. He says, “I’m that voice.”

As I discussed last week, John the Baptist lived in ‘the wilderness’ — the desert. Therefore, he lived in a literal wilderness. However, there is also the connotation of a spiritual wilderness in which others lived.

MacArthur interprets Isaiah for us in light of John the Baptist’s purpose:

So in what way was he lowering mountains and elevating valleys and straightening out crooked roads and clearing obstacles off the path spiritually? Spiritually; the truth preacher of righteousness, a voice not attracting people to himself but to one of higher rank whose sandals He wasn’t worthy to untie. And He was saying, “Make straight,” He says in verse 23, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Create a highway in your heart is what he’s after

The low places are the base things in life that need to be…that need to be brought up. The high things are the elevated self-righteous, prideful, hypocritical things that need to be brought low. The crooked things, the deviant things need to be straightened out. The clutter of life needs to be cleared off so that the road is clean. This is all a part of the message of repentance. Deal with the issues of the heart, which is both wretched in its self-elevation and it’s self-debasing.

John tells us that the Pharisees sent the priests and Levites to John the Baptist (verse 24). It could be that John the Baptist surmised that and why he was angry at the nature of their questions. He and his parents were devout Jews and were no doubt aware of the corrupt nature of the Sanhedrin.

The priests and Levites continued to ask him about what he was doing and why he was baptising people (verse 25). It was their way of asking how he dared do that without their authority.

John gave them a spiritual response about Jesus, who was among them but whom they did not yet know (verse 26). John stated his unworthiness to even undo His sandal (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, why are you focused on me? Why are you so caught up with me? I baptize in water. He just deflects this thing completely away. I baptize in water. What’s the big deal? This is water. This is just putting people in water—just an external symbol …

So John does what he always did, turns everybody’s attention toward Christ. And there you have his first message in verse 26, “Among you stands One whom you do not know; He is here.” That’s his first message. He’s here. Why are you caught up with me? You see me, you know me, but One stands already here that you don’t know. He’s the One you need to know. He’s the One you need to know. He’s the One, he later says, who baptizes in the Holy Spirit. In other words, He’s the One who deals with the heart, with the heart. The Messiah is present. He’s here. He doesn’t mean He’s standing there by the water that day. He means He’s in the land; He has arrived.

This is the chronological timeline:

At the very moment he says this, Jesus is walking toward where John is and will arrive the next day. It was forty-plus days ago that John baptized Jesus. And then Jesus went, carried by the Holy Spirit, up into the wilderness for forty days of temptation. The forty days of temptation is ended. Jesus is on His way back, back to John. And what John is saying is not that He’s here on the spot, but that He’s here—He has been identified and He’s present. That’s the first great message that John gives. That’s where all gospel preaching starts, doesn’t it? He’s here; He’s come; He’s come; He’s come.

Incidentally, the Bethany referred to in verse 28 is not the one where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. It is a different Bethany:

Day two picks up the story in verse 29. All of this, of course, verse 28 says, was happening in a place called Bethany beyond the Jordan. Not the Bethany on the eastside of Jerusalem there, but another Bethany. We don’t know where exactly it was; out beyond the Jordan River into the wilderness. It all happened there. But verse 29 then takes us to day two, the next day. He saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is day two; this is group two. Group two, all the people that are gathered, all the crowd, and the message: “Look at Him.” “Look at Him.” “Look at Him.”

This is such a brilliant episode in the Gospel story. One can understand why it is included in the readings for Gaudete Sunday, a day of rejoicing.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauWhat follows are the readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Gaudete Sunday — December 15, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

The alternate reading is designated with a blue heading.

This particular Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday because of the traditional Introit, which calls on God’s people to rejoice. Gaudete is Latin for ‘rejoice’. This is when the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit; traditionally, the priest wore rose coloured vestments on this day.

This is the first line of the original Latin Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

This is the English translation:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Many centuries ago, Advent began on St Martin’s Day, November 11. It was a time of fasting and penitence until Christmas. Gaudete Sunday represented a brief reprieve of a lengthy Advent of self-denial.

Read more about this day below:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

The readings reflect the joy in anticipation of our Lord among us.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Whilst Isaiah prophesies of God’s deliverance of His people upon whom He passed a terrible judgement, he also foretells the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that there is more of Christ and the Church in this chapter ‘than one would have expected’ to see in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 35:1-10

35:1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus

35:2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.

35:3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

35:5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;

35:6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;

35:7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

35:8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

35:9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.

35:10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Psalm

This Psalm excels in its praise of God our Father. Consider everything highlighted.

Psalm 146:5-10

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

146:9 The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

146:10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Alternate reading – Psalm substitute

The Magnificat — Mary’s prayer (said during her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother) — can be read in place of the Psalm.

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Epistle

As did the other Apostles, James encouraged the early Christians to be patient, even during persecution. Patience is one of the most difficult of Christian virtues to practise. Yet, we must persevere in it.

James 5:7-10

5:7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

5:10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Gospel

During his imprisonment, John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew Henry explains the various reasons why John did this. It could have been as an encouraging confirmation for himself or it could have been to remove any doubt among his followers that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, humble though He was. Jesus then spoke to the crowd about John.

Matthew 11:2-11

11:2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples

11:3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

11:4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:

11:5 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.

11:6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

11:7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?

11:8 What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.

11:9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

11:10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’

11:11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

I hope that some clergy will discuss this rather complex Gospel reading in its context of the day. The Jews expected a temporal Messiah, a king greater than David. If some of John’s disciples believed that, then it was only right that he would want to dispel that error. Similarly, Jesus also confirmed that John the Baptist was preparing the way among the people for His own ministry and commended him for his work in His name.

The content of Advent sermons can be difficult for today’s pewsitter to accept — provided the clergyman (or woman) giving the sermon is true to the Bible.

For example, this year — Year C — the First Sunday of Advent gives us Luke’s account of Jesus’s words on His Second Coming. I was really looking forward to going to Sunday worship to hear about that.

But, no. Instead, we heard about the Creation Story in Genesis juxtaposed with John 1, the arrival of the Light of the World — the usual Christmas Day reading. The young ordained Anglican priest told us — a group of oldsters — that God really loves humanity, and we have nothing to worry about from Him. As we are all long in the tooth, we remember fire and brimstone sermons.

My takeaways from the old days were, ‘God loves humanity — His creation, made in His image — but He hates sin’. The Bible is all about this message, from cover to cover.

Advent readings follow a sequence for a reason. The sermons are supposed to match each Sunday’s theme, intended to get us to repent — ‘turn around’ — from our worldly ways before Christmas.

Therefore, it was a relief to read two reflections for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Week of Advent, from fellow Anglicans: an Episcopalian and an Anglican priest.

My reader undergroundpewster, the author of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog, wrote his reflections of John the Baptist’s message to his numerous and diverse followers (Luke 3:7-18). Although Gaudete Sunday is one of joy, John the Baptist called his followers ‘you brood of vipers’, warning them of ‘the wrath to come’ if they did not repent. And, he said of Jesus:

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.

Undergroundpewster wrote (emphasis in the original):

Good news like, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Hmm…

With good news like that, who needs bad news?

Then he directed us to an excellent sermon at Crossway by Pastor Paul David Tripp, which explains why Jesus is the Good News (an excerpt follows, emphases mine).

It is all about humanity’s sins (bad news) for which Jesus sacrificed Himself in a once and perfect oblation on the Cross (Good News). Emphases mine below:

Sure, you can run from a bad relationship, you can quit a bad job, you can move from a dangerous neighborhood, and you can leave a dysfunctional church, but you have no ability whatsoever to escape yourself. You and I simply have no ability to rescue ourselves from the greatest danger in our lives. This means that without the birth of Jesus, we are doomed to be destroyed by the danger that lurks inside us from the moment of our first breath.

You don’t need to look far in the Bible to know what this danger is. Its stain is on every page of Scripture. Romans 3:23 exposes this danger with a few simple words: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Sin is the bad news of the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t come to earth to do a preaching tour or to hang out with us for a while; he came on a radical mission of moral rescue

He came to rescue us because he knew that we couldn’t rescue ourselves. He knew that sin separates us from God and leaves us guilty before him. He knew that sin makes us active enemies against God, and what he says is good, right, and true. He knew that sin blinds us to the gravity of our condition and our dire need for help. He knew that sin causes us to replace worship of God with an unending catalog of created things that capture the deepest allegiances of our hearts. He knew that sin renders all of us unable to live as we were designed to live. And he knew that sin was the final terminal disease that, without help, would kill us all.

The Revd Paul David Tripp holds a DMin from the well regarded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Sermons from Reformed — Calvinist — pastors are always useful in reminding us why we need to repent: so that we might share eternal life with God and His Son Jesus Christ.

So, going back to the sermon at my church, yes, God loves humanity, but God really hates the sins that humans commit because of Original Sin. We cannot help ourselves, as the Bible tells us. Therefore, it is misleading for a young cleric to say, ‘God loves humans — nothing to worry about, folks’.

The second helpful sermon comes from an Anglican vicar in England, The Revd Vic Van Den Bergh, author of Vic the Vicar! Vic also had a post on the meaning of Luke 3:7-18, which puts repentance into perspective. Vic addresses his thoughts to present-day Christians, who are, after all, supposed to walking in Christ’s ways.

Excerpts follow:

Are we producing fruit ‘in keeping with our repentance’? Does the gratitude for our salvation have any substance in the way we live or do we think that attending church, wearing a cross (fish), and dropping money in the offering makes us fit for heaven?

Do you think the crowds were asking themselves how much bad stuff they were laying up alongside, or instead of, the treasures they should have been storing up in heaven?  Yet this is what John was calling them to focus on. John was calling them (and us) to look at the ways they (we) can raise their game and live differently

He didn’t tell anyone that God wanted them to be happy doing what they saw as fit and right to do (regardless of what the Bible might teach). He didn’t tell them to give more money – because God doesn’t want your money, He wants your hearts and lives filled with love and generosity in things, actions, and in spirit.

He told the people before him to live a godly and righteous life in the things and the places they were returning to after the show – and that is exactly what the prophecy of Malachi some four hundred years before called the people to do. And they didn’t and so, with the arrival about to be made public, John is trying to get the people to get their lives in order so they look at least a little bit presentable. This is not a harsh rebuttal but an act of generosity for it’s giving those hearing his words the chance to turn around (that’s a clever use of ‘repent’ innit?) – and this is what we are also doing when we encourage people to change their lives before it’s too late.

Living our lives well, looking and sounding and acting like Jesus, in the world is one of the most important witnesses we can make to our being people of faith. You don’t need a dog collar or a title or a medal – you need to exhibit the generous heart of God and that needs a cross – and gratitude, rejoicing in the freedom from sin and reconciliation with the godhead that that brings. Here we find the fruits of gladness become made real in our generous and right living. It’s so simple really, isn’t it?

He explains why even such a harsh message should bring us joy on Gaudete Sunday (December 16):

rejoicing is the natural response to the fact that God has taken away the punishment of his people and has ‘turned back’ their enemy. The reality in the words of Zephaniah given some time around 620 BC is the same reality that Jesus’ death on the cross brings for the Christian too. Jesus’ death brings defeat for our enemy (satan) and he (Jesus) bears in His body the punishment for us. He takes our place. What love. What generosity to pay a bill that wasn’t His to be paying! Jesus is the mighty warrior who saves; them one who no longer rebukes but rejoices over us with songs of deliverance.

And the Apostle Paul gets into the act with his letter to the church in Phillipi, a communication which I think affirms all we have here, for when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice,” he is nodding towards the fact that to rejoice is a choice of attitude. It is the expression of our gratitude for all God has given and done for us

Let us bear this message in mind as we celebrate Christmas with friends and family.

Regardless of desirable gifts and sumptuous feasts coming up on Tuesday, one thing should stay in our minds as we contemplate the Christ Child in the crib: Jesus is our eternal Lord and Saviour, who paid the bill ‘that wasn’t His to be paying!’ Rejoice!

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 15, 2018 is the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, because of its joyful themes in anticipating the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

On Gaudete Sunday, a traditional celebrant will wear a rose vestment to symbolise joy.

I wrote about this particular Sunday at length last year. Readers might find the origin of Gaudete Sunday — and the earlier beginning of Advent centuries ago — useful:

Gaudete Sunday: readings for the Third Sunday of Advent — Year B

This Advent, the beginning of the Church year, we are in Year C.

Most churches will probably only select one of the following readings — including the Epistle — followed by the Gospel.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Zephaniah foretells the deliverance of Israel and prophesies that salvation — via Jesus — is coming.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

3:14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

3:15 The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

3:16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.

3:17 The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing

3:18 as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

3:19 I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.

3:20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

Second reading

The reading from Isaiah is similar to that of Zephaniah in that God will grant His faithful eternal salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 12:2-6

12:2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

12:3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

12:4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

12:5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

12:6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Epistle

Paul exhorted the Philippians to be joyful, as the Lord was with them. Verse 4 is the default recessional blessing in Anglican — including Episcopalian — services, a favourite of mine.

Philippians 4:4-7

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

4:5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Gospel

The reading from Luke is about John the Baptist’s ministry in anticipation of Jesus, calling for repentance and charity, both of which characterise Advent.

Luke 3:7-18

3:7 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?

3:8 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.

3:9 Even now the ax 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.”

3:10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

3:11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

3:12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?”

3:13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.”

3:14 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.”

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 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.

3:17 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.”

3:18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Christmas nears. Joy increases in people’s hearts. The Christ Child is about to be born. The world will soon rejoice.

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