Sermon for Holy Communion with Baptism on the Third Sunday in Advent, 17th December 2017

Isaiah 12; Luke 1:57-66. Pink is the Colour.

Today is Rose Sunday, the pink candle one, the third Sunday in Advent. Next Sunday will be Christmas Eve – help! Still all those cards to send and presents to wrap – but, perhaps you’re not as hopeless at getting organised as I am.

The rose is a sign of rejoicing. The priest can wear pink vestments. I’m not sure whether we’ve actually got any pink ones, or whether Godfrey thought that people might get the wrong idea about him if he turned out in a fetching little pink number – so he’s been sticking to Advent purple. In Latin, in the Roman Catholic church, following the words of the antiphon for the day, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’, Rose Sunday was known as ‘Laetare’ (meaning ‘rejoice’) Sunday. At Mattins and Evensong – tonight it’s our Nine Lessons and Carols – I can wear my academic hood, which, especially as it has rather faded with age, could just about pass as pink.

From the prophet Isaiah:

Behold, God is my salvation: …

Sing unto the Lord; for he hath done excellent things:

these words are echoed in the story of the birth of John the Baptist, whom we commemorate on this third Sunday in the Advent sequence. It’s a really appropriate day for Cecily to be baptised. Baptised on this day, when we remember John the Baptist, the Baptiser.

I love naming rituals. In one of my favourite funny films, ‘Animal House’, which is about a student fraternity house in the USA, new members of the house, called ‘pledges’, are given pledge names, ‘Flounder’, ‘Otter’, and so on, to replace their more prosaic, given names.

It reminds me that in the old days, before British Airways spoiled business travel for ordinary salarymen by inventing Business Class, when, before Business Class, when one flew in the front of the plane, to the Far East, the airlines would create for you business cards in Chinese or Japanese or Arabic or Hindi characters. I always used to send the proof to our company’s agent in the country concerned, and asked them to check the accuracy of the translation in the business card. Once, my contact in Hong Kong said, ‘Oh, they’ve given you a very respectable name!’ What? I asked. You mean they didn’t just transliterate my actual name?’ No, they didn’t. They gave me a better one!

Your name will be Otter. Welcome to ΔΤΧ. (Delta-Tau-Chi).’ That’s Animal House. ‘Your name – is John. Make straight the way of the Lord’. That’s something altogether more serious. John was named ‘John’ and not ‘Zechariah’, after his father because ‘John’ or Johanan in Hebrew, means ‘Jehovah (God) has been gracious, God has shown favour’, whereas ‘Zechariah’ just means, ‘The Lord has remembered’. And your name will be – Cecily. The patron saint of music. Lovely!

God had indeed been gracious to John the Baptist’s mother Elisabeth. She had given up on trying to have children ages ago. She was described harshly as ‘barren’, and both she and Zechariah her husband were described as well on – ‘well stricken’ – in years. But still the angel Gabriel had come to Zechariah and had told him that they would after all be blessed with a child ‘filled with the Holy Ghost’ as soon as he was born. He would also be a teetotaller, for a reason that is not explained. The angel also stopped poor Zechariah from speaking, struck him totally dumb, as a demonstration of his divine power.

So when the boy was indeed born, and the poor chap was to be circumcised and named – for some reason, don’t you think that being baptised is so much nicer? – when he was being named, as part of the process, Elisabeth spoke up and said that he shouldn’t take his father’s name, as would have been traditional, but that he should be called ‘John’, ‘The Lord has been gracious’.

And the in Isaiah comes the vision of the Messiah, the ‘rod out of the stem of Jesse’ in the previous chapter.

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord;

….

6 The wolf … shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

….

9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

As we know, John the Baptist wasn’t the Messiah, but he was preparing the way for the one who was, Jesus. After John had been named, Zechariah regained the power of speech. He then went on to prophesy, saying the words which we’ve just sung, the Benedictus, ‘Blessed’ in Latin, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Zechariah was prophesying about his own son, John.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins..

So what will you do on this pink Sunday? Is this all just too far-fetched? I’m rather drawn to that vision of God’s holy mountain, on which they will not hurt or destroy. I’m attracted to the ‘tender mercy of our God: whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: and to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Light to the blind, life to the dying, the way to peace. We could use all that today.

We see so much that we don’t understand. We might as well not see at all. We are afraid of death and destruction. Nuclear weapons are being tested and their use is being threatened, even by people and nations whom we regard as our friends. There are millions of refugees, there are millions hungry, and suffering terrible diseases: they all urgently need it to come about that the way to peace is found once more.

The words of the Catholic Entrance Antiphon for Rose Sunday, which come from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, make perfect sense.

‘Gaudete in Domino … Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.

Indeed, the Lord is near’.

If you read a bit further on in Philippians, you get this.

Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

What good advice. I think that to concentrate on that would be – it would almost be better than wrapping presents! Oh well … I hope you, parents and godparents, and Cecily, your little star, have a lovely Rose Sunday

Advertisements