Materials for Worship on the Third Sunday in Advent

Moira writes:  As you light your candle and prepare for worship, you may wish to read our Gospel passage from chapter 3 of Luke’s Gospel verses 7-18.

The season of Advent, as we know, is a season of expectation, it’s a season of waiting and it’s a season of preparation. Times were harsh for the faithful Jews who followed John the Baptist. They were under the heavy hand of their Roman rulers. Rome had granted them permission to follow their religious beliefs, but they could and did crack down on them any time they wanted to.
The whole future of the Jewish population was, to all intents and purposes, in jeopardy. So, what did John the Baptist lead them to expect when they came out to hear him preach? Many of them would remember prophets of the past and maybe heard an echo of their preaching in John as he called the people to be baptised in the River Jordan and I expect that excitement was running high.

But what did John lead them to expect when they came out to hear him?

If we look at the opening words from this passage, it would be no surprise to find that the people were expecting the full wrath of God to fall upon them. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
There was even talk of trees that didn’t bear good fruit being chopped down. Not exactly encouraging words. Expectations are hard to define most of the time. They frequently are quite ambiguous. We “hope” for something better . . . but just, exactly, what the “better” is that we hope for, whether we “expect” it or not, is hard to identify. Better health for those whose bodies are troubled with physical distress. Better wages for those who are struggling to feed their families. Better circumstances for those enduring difficult circumstances of various kinds those oppressed by war and conflict, those suffering abuse, warmth and comfort for the cold and homeless, a return to safety and security for refugees in many parts of the earth, food and drink for the hungry . . . the list is endless. Those are the things people desperately “hope for” much of the time.

(Perhaps you might like to pause here and think about what expectations and hopes you have this Advent Season.)

I wonder if John, himself, fully understood what to expect? Sometime after this, when he was in prison because of Herod’s displeasure with his ministry, John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”   Instead of the fire and brimstone that he evidently expected at the hand of Jesus, “John has heard of little other than love and compassion and grace and mercy. He has become uncertain. Were his expectations wrong when he had preached on the banks of the Jordan . . . or had he failed to identify the proper person?

Luke tells us in chapter 7 verses 22 and 23, that Jesus replied, “Report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”   So many of the followers of John, and perhaps John himself, thought that Jesus would be the one who would take on Rome head-to-head, restoring again the glory of Israel as an independent representative of the presence of God among the nations of the earth. Jesus makes clear that his mission is of quite another sort.

This leads us back to our question, for what, or for whom were the people to be expectantly waiting?

The end to which the people were to wait is not all that clear at first hearing. The word was given without a clearly identifiable object by John. Just wait! They would see in due time what God was doing when God did it! He will surprise them, for he will do what they least expect . . . or even what they least thought possible . . . perhaps even what they are not particularly interested in getting, for that matter! He would do what he would do.

Yet they “were in expectation!”   The object for which they were to wait was not immediately apparent. One thing, however, was quite clear: They were to wait for what God would do, not what they would accomplish!
And there, in a nutshell, the whole of John’s mission and message is laid bare. Wait! Wait for what God is going to do! They, like we, were living in an Advent time . . . a “waiting time.”   It is not a “going toward” time. It is a “waiting for One who is to come” time. When he comes, God will do a great thing! Wait and see! Expect God to do what you cannot imagine. Only he knows what he will do, but what he will do will exceed any and all human expectations. This is the “Joyful Sunday,” the Sunday of Advent when the central theme is the certainty that God’s coming will bring full release from all that binds us and holds us fast in the clutches of things that appear terrifying to us. We can live with high expectations, for God comes, acting on our behalf! With Paul, in the midst of all this, we cry out, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand!”
                                                             St. John Baptising by Nicolas Poussin

This Advent, like the people gathered at the River Jordan to be baptised, let us all be filled with great expectation of what is to come.

As you prepare to pray, you might like to read the Epistle from Paul to the Philippians chapter 4 verses 4-7

  • Pray for Nerys and all who are involved in worship at this busy time.
  • Pray for the Christingle service and all the families who will attend.
  • Pray for the work of Aberlour, our Advent Charity.
  • Pray for those who find Christmas a difficult time.
  • Pray for each other that we will find that expectation and hope to which we are called in Advent.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Amen.