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Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent


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The example of John the Baptist

Traditionally the Readings and Collect are based on the work of John the Baptist. The Gospel is John 1: verses 6 – 8 and 19 -28.
The Collect is a reminder, not just of the ministry of John the Baptist, but of the responsibility of all “ministers and stewards” of the Church in their proclamation of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

“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 in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

The role of a prophet, as recorded in both the Old and New Testaments, has always been problematical with the establishment! In today's Gospel we read of the “clerical officers” of the establishment questioning the authority of John. “Who are you?” “What right have you got to be ministering and preaching?” His reply is self-effacing and points forward to the preaching and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are a number of provocative questions that arise from the preaching of John the Baptist.

1) If the “Ministers and Stewards” at the time of John the Baptist had been fulfilling their God-given role, would John's ministry have been necessary? Many of the hierarchical “clergy” at the time seem to have been more interested in nitpicking over the details of the Law, than in preaching and teaching on the love and justice of God. (Matthew 6:2; 7:5; 22:18; 23:15 etc.)

2) John (and the Lord Jesus Christ c.f. Matthew 13: 36 - 43) did not hesitate to preach on the subjects of “wrath” and “judgement”. When the church leadership shows a reluctance to even mention the “wrath of God” then maybe we should pray that He will raise up a prophet or two to give a clear Gospel message.

3) John did not claim any divine mandate for his preaching. He simply said that he was called to “Make straight the way of the Lord”. If we are to be faithful then we need to be preparing for the return of the Son of Man.

Our responsibility then, in the light of the Readings and Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent, is to do at least two things.
i) To pray for faithfulness in those given authority in the Church. The Services for the Ordination of Priests and the Consecration of Bishops are well worth reading and re-reading! Especially the “Declaration of Faith” which in which the Ordinands affirm their belief in the 39 Articles (See note 'a' below)

ii) To imitate John the Baptist and Charles Wesley in pointing people to Christ. “My only business here below is to cry behold the Lamb, behold, behold the Lamb.”



Note 'a'
Declaration of Faith which in which the Ordinand affirms their belief in the 39 Articles.

The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make, will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to those in your care?

Ordinand:   I, (name), do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.


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