December 11, 2016

Advent3Candles

Third Sunday of Advent - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger


God our father, may we always rejoice in hearing Your Word
as we await the Word Made Flesh. Amen.

 

Rejoice!!!
Today is Gaudete Sunday.

 

“Gaudete” means “rejoice”. And it is why we light the pink candle on the 3rd Sunday in Advent. I’ve been told that there may have been times when the pink candle was lit on the 4th Sunday in Advent, for Mary. This was the case at St Clement’s in Chorlton where I served my Curacy. Disregarding the cautioning of my Rector, I asked to correct this error by preaching on the 3rd Sunday in Advent. After all, in the Church of England Ordination service, the Bishop makes it clear that a priest is to “teach and admonish”. <pause> The following year, the pink candle was lit on the 4th Sunday of Advent.

 

Here’s the problem: The scriptural reference for Gaudete Sunday is only used in Year C, and we have just started Year A. In Year C, the Epistle is Philippians 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” But our current readings are not without rejoicing:

 

  • Isaiah speaks of the rejoicing of Nature when the Messiah comes.
  • The Psalm has us happy – which could be “rejoicing” – to be Children of God.

The overarching problem is that there are several different themes and customs for Advent, and the candles are just one of those customs. We tend to go through the motions, often not giving due consideration to the history and meaning of our customs and traditions, and then separate traditions get conflated into one. When I started researching, one of my resources starts its entry with: “Advent, like Lent, has a complex history.” The following sentence ends with the word “questionable”. So, we should not place all the blame on ourselves for not always getting the practice of Advent right.


There are at least 4 themes associated with the 4 Sundays in Advent:

  • Hope, Peace, Joy and Love
  • God’s People, the OT Prophets, John the Baptist and Mary
  • Waiting, Accepting, Journeying and Birthing.
  • Expectation, Hope, Joy and Purity.
  • [Addendum:  The theme I couldn’t remember is: Death, Judgement, Heaven & Hell]

Then we have the dual focus of our preparing: one for the remembrance of The Incarnation; the other for the Second Coming. This has been phrased as Advent marking “the beginning and the end of human redemption”.


The wreath and candles themselves have several meanings and customs. And the pink candle is completely optional. We could have 4 purple candles or 4 blue candles. Of course, the light of candles in church always signify the Light of Christ. But they also serve a useful function in if you’re a small Medieval congregation in the dark and cold of winter!

 

One other tradition that I love comes in the form of the Collect for the 3rd Sunday in Advent: Stir up your power, O Lord.” In England, that phrase is in the Post-Communion Prayer for Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent. That Sunday is nicknamed “Stir-up Sunday”, and the prayer is to remind the women to stir the dried fruit soaking in brandy for their Christmas cakes or to make their Christmas puddings. Wikipedia states:

 

Supposedly, cooks, wives and their servants would go to church, hear the words “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord ...”, and be reminded, by association of ideas, that it was about time to start stirring up the puddings for Christmas.


That is my favorite tradition associated with the pre-Christmas period, even though I don’t like Christmas cake or Christmas pudding.


I won’t bore you with more history of Advent customs. I’ll just say: We will be lighting the pink candle on the 3rd Sunday in Advent. And we will remember that this is a time of rejoicing that the Messiah is nigh.


As humans, we tend to go through the motions, often not giving due consideration to the history and meaning of our customs and traditions. On this Gaudete Sunday, Jesus reminds us of the work of The Messiah here on earth:


“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.”


Yes, the traditional theme for the 3rd Sunday in Advent is John the Baptist, and Jesus points us to the significance of John. And yes, we light a pink candle completely unassociated with John the Baptist, because we are rejoicing. And I’m certainly one to belabor a theme to oppressive proportions. But we also have to remember what John the Baptist, the writers of Isaiah and James were pointing us toward Jesus Christ.

 

  • Isaiah illustrates the joyous world that will be when the Messiah comes.
  • Jesus is reminding us of the significance of John the Baptist and of his mission to get all to prepare for the Coming of the Messiah.
  • And it is James who has the most poignant message for us here in 2016.


James explicitly instructs us that

we should be focusing on the

Second Coming, and maintain

the right attitude and behavior

while we wait.


We are getting our houses festooned in tinsel and greens. We are fighting the crowds in the department stores and the grocery stores. Our credit cards are melting from the rate of usage. And I am quite sure that there are a few of you who are getting increasingly stressed about Christmas Day itself. Again, we tend to go through the motions, often not giving due consideration to the history and meaning of our customs and traditions. James reminds us, as does Jesus, that our we need to reset our focus on why we are engaging in these customs and traditions.

 

When we strip away all the modern customs and traditions around Advent and Christmas, we find that our gathering on Sunday mornings is to partake in the Eucharist – the Great Thanksgiving for what Jesus Christ has done. He gave us His Body and Blood in the form of Bread and Wine as a symbol of His Death.


Our faith and practice of it is centered around the Death, Resurrection and Second Coming of Christ. As I said in my sermon on the 1st Sunday of Advent:


we are Advent People.


We will perpetually be in this state of preparation until Christ returns. Weekly we recount the Last Supper to remind us of the Grace we have received through Christ’s Death and Resurrection. We boldly proclaim:


We remember His death,

We proclaim His resurrection,

We await His coming in glory;

 

As “we await His coming in glory”, Isaiah gives us a vision of what it will be like:
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.
James tells us to be patient.


While we wait patiently, and while we prepare for the holiday of Christmas, let us not lose sight of why we are here: To meet Christ in Bread and Wine as we look for the one whom John the Baptist foretold. Not only is Advent a good time for preparing, and a good time to be reminded of why we do what we do. It is a good time to be reminded that:


every Sunday is a celebration of

the Resurrection regardless of

what candle we light.
That, in itself,
is worth our rejoicing.


Amen.

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