John 1:6-8; 19-28 Isaiah 61:1-4; 8-end
Third Sunday in Advent
Traditionally, the candles in the Advent wreath are in different colours: 3 purple candles, one pink and the one in the middle is gold or white. The purple reflects the colour of the season, the white or gold one is for Christmas, and the pink candle stands for a splash of colour in the midst of the darker purple. Traditionally also, pink is for the Third Sunday in Advent, or Gaudete or Rose Sunday, when the coming of Christ is announced by John the Baptist, who is his messenger and who sees him approach with joy.
Although I don’t have the coloured candles which are in the churches, I light the third candle with the following prayer:
Lord Jesus, light of the world, John told the people to prepare, for you were very near. As Christmas grows closer day by day, help us to be ready to welcome you now. Amen.
The old dunes at one of my favourite beaches totally block the sea from view, so that, as you approach via the path that goes up the dunes and then down onto the beach, the view opens spectacularly at the top, and there it is: the sea! Even now, on one of my very occasional trips to the sea, there’s still a feeling of excitement and anticipation. Of course, previous experience has taught me that the sea is already there, but the sight and smell still comes as a bit of a surprise.
‘In the beginning was the Word’. The opening sentence of John’s Gospel echoes the first words recorded in the Bible, in Genesis 1. And the effect is just as dramatic. A changing scene, a different view, a new world, is announced. And all because of God speaking the change into the situation. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ In the opening sentence of Genesis 1, God equally spoke and it was so: light out of darkness, and living beings, and the loving statement that ‘everything was very good’.
Words matter. A kindness said is a kindness done. (If that isn’t a proverb yet, it should be!) We all know the impact of words: an encouraging ‘You can do it’ or ‘I love you’, makes all the difference. It changes a situation and how we feel. Likewise, derogatory remarks and name-calling are extremely harmful, and have an effect. Words change things, both for the speaker and the hearer. So the opening verses of John 1 continue to describe the dramatic change that the new light of life, who was Jesus Christ, was making. It was true life that was the light of all people. And then there was John the Baptist, who came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe. There is such depth in the account that it’s hard to be succinct. But the gospel writer John does try, and like peeling away the layers of an onion, he reveals the truth that John the Baptist is proclaiming. John is saying in effect that the Word of God is challenging and changing the darkness – and now the darkness of human existence – once more. It’s God saying again: ‘Let there be light!’ And now, too, the darkness has to flee as the new creation is brought into being. Yet there is a problem: when God sends the Living Word into the world, the world doesn’t want to know. Even when God is sending the Word specifically to the chosen people of Israel, they don’t recognize him. This is the central problem of the message of Good News for the whole world: that Jesus is not welcomed into the lives of those to whom he is sent. Many people have become used to their darkness; in fact, they prefer it to the light of life that is freely given. But the opposite is also true: that those who do receive him, who believe in his name, have become children of God. Those who accept the Good News of Jesus are finding themselves embraced in the light and love of God, so that they will never need to know darkness ever more. Verses 1-2 and 18 begin and end this passage from John’s Gospel in showing us what it’s all about: ‘No one has ever seen God [but] it is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’
As we are approaching Christmas, the offer of God himself in Jesus is being renewed. Like the opening up of a new scene, the revelation of a new vista, the light is beginning to shine. We can see it over the hilltop, shimmering and brightening as we are getting near. And then: there it is! So how are you approaching Christmas and the revealing of God’s Son? And how do you respond?
O people of God: return! You are called to be God’s own. From the mountains announce the good news. God comes in justice and peace, to all who follow his ways. You are God’s children.
So, Lord, make us one in the peace of Christ today and for ever. Amen.