Sermons from St
Fr John Reed, Sunday, 17th December,
Last Sunday on Songs of Praise I was told that the chaplain of the House of Commons, the Rev’d Rose Hudson Wilkin, was talking about the significance of the pink candle on the Advent ring. Her understanding was that it was for the Virgin Mary and to be lit on the 4th Sunday of Advent. This is a commonly held view, but the liturgical commission, many churches throughout Europe and in particular St. Faith's Church would disagree. The pink candle is for the 3rd Sunday or “Gaudete” Sunday when we rejoice that festival of Christmas is nearly upon us. For those of us that don’t know Latin; Gaudete means rejoice. This Sunday is the one in which pink vestments are worn as a mark of the churches rejoicing about the immanent coming of Jesus at Christmas. Just 8 sleeps to Christmas day when we celebrate God being with us in the child Jesus. The Advent ring is a wonderful church tradition but inevitably the confusion about its meaning and the way it is done provokes lots of discussion and debate which takes us away from the point of Advent.
Johns Gospel is clearly written against a background of confusion and debate, it is thought to have been written by a very elderly St. John to the church in Ephesus, Ephesus was very multi cultural, in terms of Jews Greeks Romans and others. This was the last word by those who had seen Jesus to the remaining church. John writes his Gospel so that his readers will know Jesus to the Saviour. Amongst the Jews there were those who thought that Moses and the law were God last word to humanity, John proclaims that Jesus is the fulfilment of everything they have been looking for. There were some who had followed John the Baptist and become disciples of the prophet and in Johns the Baptists own words St. John tells his readers John is but a stage on the way too.
Greek ikons of John the Baptist give us a picture of someone who had more unkempt dark curly hair than the actor Brian Blessed, and eyes that remind you of someone from an X-en film. They are bright red concentric circles, that on one level burn into the hearts of sinful humanity, nothing is hidden from God's judgement that he proclaims to his listeners. Judgement requires changed lives to greet the coming of the messiah. Are we ready to admit what we keep hidden in the dark recesses of our hearts and receive God's forgiveness?
On another level the eyes on the ikon draw us deeper into the mystery of Jesus the word made flesh, for St. John the only truth that counts is believing in Jesus. Moses and the man called John are but signposts on the way. Jesus stands above the confusion and debate of life calling us into his light. John the Baptist refuses to adopt the stereo types of the priests and Pharisees who would like him to be a long dead prophet or even the expected Messiah, he does not deny either he confesses saying I know what I have come to do, follow Jesus. In him is everything you have ever wanted follow Jesus. Confessing is speaking from the heart what you know to be true. Does our confession of Jesus come from our hearts, with conviction. Are we prepared to take the invitation of John the Baptist and be drawn into the life of the Son of God? John the Baptist doesn’t encourage us to be bystanders or passers by. St. John doesn’t either, he wants committed confessors not fence sitters.
The place I grew up in had a triangular village green. Three roads met on a corner and there was a sign post that pointed three ways. Cottenham, Willingham and Oakington. Once too often the local young people swung on the arm that pointed to Willingham and it broke off. Eventually the council came and fixed it, but for a while as we played football on the green motorists would slow down looking confused. Which way was Willingham? And for a while we became living sign posts. It would have been tempting to lie and send motorists the wrong way, but thankfully for them we weren’t like that. The one place a sign post never points to is itself, and John the Baptist was a true sign post.
In a world of darkness, debate and confusion we like John the Baptist are sign posts called to clearly confess the one we follow. Pink candles and vestments may be interesting to discuss, but in their small way they shed a light and speak of a truth that leads us and those we sign the way for, to true rejoicing.