Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Gaudete Sunday (past the half-way point)

December 11, 2022

Isaiah 35:1-10                                     Canticle 15                          James 5:7-10                             Matthew 11:2-11

          Growing up, I believed the pink candle on the Advent Wreath was for Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It wasn’t until I was a priest and I began preaching on the gospels that I realized the focus on Mary is found in the fourth Sunday of Advent, not today, the third Sunday of Advent.  The gospel in the first Sunday focuses on judgment day. In the second Sunday, it is focused on John the Baptist. This Sunday (the third Sunday on Advent) I want to focus on Jesus answering the question, “Are you the one?”  It is not until the fourth Sunday that the gospel focuses on Mary and Joseph.

          So, on my first Advent as a priest after hearing people suggest we lit the rose candle on the wrong Sunday, I did a little research and learned the Rose Candle has nothing to Mary; unless, of course, you believe it does.  In my research I found that church traditions vary – even within the Episcopal Church. 

The Prayer Book says nothing about an advent wreath or the appropriate color for each of the church seasons.  Our confirmation classes teach about our faith by using the analogy of the three-legged stool.  The legs represent the sources of authority for our church.  Scripture, tradition, and reason are the cornerstones of our faith.  The colors for each season, vestments, and our use of an Advent wreath are all examples of our liturgical tradition and, different churches have different traditions.  Many churches now use blue vestments and candles during Advent, rather than purple, to make the difference between Lent and Advent more pronounced. 

          The origins of the Rose Candle and vestments is similar to the Rose Sunday in Lent.  Both seasons are penitential in nature and are leading to something wonderful.  Yet just past the middle of the season, Rose Sunday serves as reminder of the joy that is to come.  This is what the color rose represents, joy – the joy that is to come for Jesus.   Whereas in Lent we anticipate the resurrection of Jesus, in Advent we are anticipating the incarnation of God in his birth.

          The gospel lessons take a turn on this Sunday.  We are no longer focusing as much on our need for Jesus and the redemption he offers.  We are anticipating, with great joy, his birth.  John the Baptist sends a messenger to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one?”  Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

          It is a wonderful and exciting response, that connects us with the words of the prophet Isaiah:

Here is your God.  He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

It is joyful news!  Jesus is the one. The people have seen all of this: the blind receive their sight, the lepers cleansed, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor receive good news.  What a wonderful and exciting experience, to be in the presence of God in the flesh. 

Yet, this lesson also challenges those of us who proclaim to be followers of Christ.  If I were asked, “Are you a Christian?” I would not respond with “tell me what you hear and see about me.”  Not even on a good day.  My behavior is too inconsistent.  It is one reason I need the seasons of Advent and Lent.  I need to take stock of my actions and my words and then repent. 

          The good news is that if I am patient, as James urges us to be in his letter, my heart can strengthen in anticipation of the coming of our Lord and then my actions may support my claim to be a Christian.   James also focuses on our actions and our words.  He writes: “Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”

          It may be a “judge not, lest ye be judged,” sort of warning.  It also encourages us to live our lives as an example to others.  It also reminds us of what we’ve all heard and have difficulty doing, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”  Jesus brings health and wholeness to people, like us, who are broken.  Jesus brings good news to the poor and to the poor in spirit. 

          In just two more Sundays, we will celebrate his coming into our lives and his life among us.  But for now, let us be patient and kind.  The world all around us will get more and more hectic the closer we get to Christmas Day.  We will be sorely tempted to grumble as we wait in lines and have bad drivers cut us off or wait too long to make a turn leaving us stuck in traffic.  Be patient, be kind, and show others we can act as we profess to believe.  The love of God is for all!

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, help us, we pray, to be living examples of your love.  Help us respond with loving kindness to those who are impatient or rude.   Strengthen our hearts that we might have a room prepared in our hearts to receive our Lord at his coming into this world in which we live.  We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirt.  Amen.