‘John the Baptist’ – 13th December 2020 -3rd Sunday of Advent

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20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

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20 12 13 Advent 3 Eucharist

Image credit: John Stephen Dwyer

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The Readings

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-end

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.


John 1.6-8, 19-28

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 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.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’ John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’ This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Alan Billings.

John the Baptist, whom we remember today with our third Advent candle, prepared people for the coming among them of Jesus. He was the cousin of Jesus, though a very different sort of person from him.

John was an ascetic. He believed you had to suffer a bit to be seriously religious. You had to go without creature comforts. Jesus, we know, took an opposite point of view. As a result, he was accused of being a bit too fond of the food and drink. His enemies said he was a drinker and a glutton. Compared to John the Baptist, he probably was. But that is not saying much. For John liked his religion lean and spare. No frills. Best practised away from the temptations and distractions of life in the city.

So John took himself off into the desert, while Jesus stayed in the towns. Not for John fine clothes. He dressed in a garment of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. Not for him fine food. He ate locusts and wild honey. Not for him the chatter and the laughter. What a contrast with Jesus who liked dinner parties, wore the tasselled dress of a rabbi, and joined in lively conversation.

But although he was very different from Jesus, even puzzled by Jesus’ behaviour; nevertheless, he could see who Jesus was and was very clear that his task was to prepare people for the coming of Jesus, and to see him as the Christ. In that respect he was a very gracious and humble man.

He said: ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.’

He might have been humble but he was far from being timid. He spoke out, urging people to sort out their lives as part of this getting ready for Christ’s coming. He even on one occasion publicly denounced the King who had married his dead brother’s wife – something forbidden. That got him put in prison and his head chopped off. But while he lived he never lost sight of the fact that he had the task of preparing the way for Jesus.

This was not a matter of making the Jews godly. They were already believers. They had the Torah – the scriptures – they worshipped in the Temple and said their prayers in the synagogue. John the Baptist’s task was to help them see God in Jesus.

All of which made me wonder how we, the Church, collectively, might be John the Baptist for people now. How might we point people to Jesus and help them see God in him.

Strange as it may seem, I believe the last few months of living with this awful disease, the coronavirus, with all its restrictions, has made me think about that afresh. I’ve come at it this way.

In my day job I have 23 people who work for me in my office. Since March they have all been working from home. Twice a week we all get together by video call and so I’ve been listening to what they say. It has been really quite revealing.

Eight months ago they were all saying how wonderful it was not to have to drive in every day to the office – it’s opposite IKEA - spending so much time sitting in traffic. Now, while they still want to have some days working from home – and we can arrange that – they have come to value and appreciate the working day, which for the moment they have lost. They have realised how the job didn’t just provide them with a wage; it also brought them companionship, friendship, human contact. We have all missed that.

And that is something that the Church also supplies week by week. Friendships and human contact. We miss it and have re-valued it during these last months.

As well as missing something, my office also discovered something. They discovered neighbours – neighbours in the sense of people next door or down the street. They noticed people around them, looked out for those who were frail or on their own. They appreciated more than they had ever done before what it means to be part of a community, to live in a place. They discovered what the Church of England has always understood the importance of the place you live – which we call the parish – where our neighbours are, where we are rooted.

This is the Anglican way of being a Christian. In our journey through life we become the people God wants us to be, not by ploughing some lone spiritual furrow, nor by joining a congregation distanced and unconnected with where we live, but by making our journey alongside others who are part of the community in which we live. A Church on the road, in the parish. The parish church, as its name suggests, brings together neighbours and teaches us all to value the parish, the place where our lives and our Church is set and to find Christ there.

If, like John the Baptist, our task is to help our neighbours find Jesus Christ, we need to value again both the parish church and the parish.

The Prayers
Prepared by Siobhan.

Holy God, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ our Saviour we ask you make us a holy people fit to meet him. We pray for our leaders ordained and non ordained, may they be blessed with wisdom as they guide us through Advent despite the pandemic. Strengthen the links between St Mary’s and our partnership churches St John’s Ranmoor and St Mark’s Broomhill.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Creator God,help the leaders of nations seek justice and peace, may there be good news for the poor and broken heartened, release those wrongly imprisoned and may conflicts be resolved. We pray for our country as we draw close to Brexit may solutions and a way forward be found. Help all who are struggling at this difficult time as COVID 19 continues globally.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Father God, we pray for all who bear witness to the message of Christ by word and example. We pray particularly for the teaching staff at our church school and for all those involved in the education of young people. We pray for parents and grandparents and remember families who are troubled or face financial hardship. We pray too for chaplaincies, community leaders and for all who work with the homeless and marginalised in our society.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Compassionate God, we entrust to your tender care those who are ill or in pain, knowing that whenever danger threatens your everlasting arms are there to hold them safe. Comfort and heal them and restore them to health and strength. Be with hospital staff and medical researchers, give resilience, empathy and compassion to those caring for the sick.
Let us pray to the Lord:
Lord, have mercy.

Gracious God, may those who have died be granted the peace of your heavenly kingdom. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Faithful God, as we continue this Advent journey, may we open our minds and hearts to your word and presence in those we encounter. In silence we bring our own prayer intentions and those who have asked for our prayers before you.

Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ.