The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am Rite II and 11:00am and 6:00pm Rite I services at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on December 17, 2017, being the Third Sunday of Advent.
Collect: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let Your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Readings: Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28
“There is one…who is coming after me.”—John 1.26-27
In the Name of Almighty God, who is and who was and who is to come. Amen.
There are three other titles that today, the Third Sunday of Advent, has throughout the Christian West. One is “Gaudete Sunday,” from the day’s historic introit hymn: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete (Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. —Philippians 4.4). Another is “Stir Up Sunday,” from today’s Collect: “Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” And the last is “Rose Sunday,” from the rose-colored candle we see lit today on our Advent wreath.
One other tradition associated with this specific day, December 17, is the beginning of the recitation of the “O Antiphons” at services during the last seven days of Advent. And it was while preparing today’s sermon that I discovered something connected to this tradition that I never before noticed. With each antiphon naming a scriptural attribute of the coming Christ, the first letter from each attribute spelled backwards themselves spell out a special acrostic phrase:
O Emmanuel (“With Us Is God”—December 23)
O Rex Gentium (“King of the Nations”—December 22)
O Oriens (“Dayspring”—December 21
O Clavis David (“Key of David”—December 20)
O Radix Jesse (“Root of Jesse”—December 19)
O Adonai (“Lord”—December 18)
O Sapientia (“Wisdom”—December 17)
E….R….O C….R….A….S—“TOMORROW, I WILL COME.”
What we see and hear this last week of Advent, through both the titles of this particular Sunday and the O Antiphons, is Christ Himself, whose coming we await, saying to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Yes, the Advent message is true: Christ is coming!
It is a message we find reconfirmed in the testimony of John the Baptist. In today’s Gospel, Christ’s forerunner says to some Pharisees questioning him, “I baptize with water; but there is one…who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” For us hearing John’s words in the here and now, there is a double-sided dimension to them. One side we are quite cognizant of; the other, perhaps, not realized as much as it should.
The cognizant side of John’s testimony in Advent is that we hear it as a prelude to Christmas, pointing to Jesus “who is coming.” And yes, in seven days, we will celebrate His first coming as a baby. We will celebrate the Baby who, as Saint Paul says, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness,” who was born to become “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.7-8). Our celebration will make this place glad with our carols of praise.
Yet, John’s testimony extends beyond Christmas. Hear, again, what the Baptizer is saying: “There is one…who is coming after me.” John is reminding us that Jesus lives even now and is coming again. We “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then He will send out the angels and gather [His] elect from the four winds, from the end of Earth to the end of the sky” (Mark 13.26-27). John’s testimony focuses our minds on the new lives that await us all through Christ’s Second Coming. Therefore, we should heed the Baptizer’s call: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3.2).
So, on this Gaudete Sunday, John the Baptist performs an important role. Not only does his testimony call us to look back, preparing our celebration of Jesus’ First Coming as a baby at Christmas, but John is also pointing us forward, to watch for our King and Savior who is drawing nigh again. And that is what Advent’s full purpose is. It shows us Jesus as the God of the past, present, and future, the Word through whom all things came to be, the Light that shines in the darkness.
This all helps put in perspective the reason for Advent being the first season of the Christian liturgical year. By focusing our minds on “the true Light, which enlightens everyone, [who is] coming into the world” (John 1.9), Advent prepares us to receive the message of Christ in heart and mind communicated through all the other seasons. Christmas—the First Coming of Christ to the world in human flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” Epiphany—Jesus’ identity as God’s Only-Begotten Son dramatically revealed to us. Lent and Holy Week—preparing ourselves, by self-examination and repentance, for Christ’s resurrection from death. Easter—celebrating our Lord’s true resurrection and victory over sin and death. And Pentecost and Ordinary Time—Jesus gifting us, His disciples, His Holy Spirit, learning from Him the ways of the Christian life, and Him equipping us to do the work of ministry in the world.
As the Rector pointed out to us a couple of Sundays ago, we are living in the meantime between Christ’s First and Second Coming. Jesus comes to us the first time “to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people as His own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2.14), and “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.” Jesus will see to it that justice is done speedily. But when He comes again, will He find faith on Earth?”
Therefore, in the meantime, we should
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks…not quench the Spirit… not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-22)
Borrowing from Godspell, our prayer this Advent season should be “to see [God] more clearly, love [Him] more dearly, follow [Him] more nearly, day by day.” Through this prayer, we see that Jesus lives and still has work for us to do. As my dad always use to say, “God ain’t done with me, yet.” Neither is He yet done with you or me. There is still loving in and testifying to the Name of Jesus Christ to be done toward others. “Prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40.3)
“There is one…who is coming after me,” proclaims John the Baptist. “Tomorrow, I will come,” Christ assures us today. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice!” Jesus is coming! But until that Great Day of His Second Coming, let us do with joy the work Jesus has given us to do and live as Advent people.
Our King and Savior draweth nigh: O come, let us adore Him! Amen.
 The Anglican Missal in the American Edition: Containing the Liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer According to the Use of the Church in the United States of America Together with Other Devotions and With Ceremonial Directions Proper to the Same (Anglican Parishes Association, 1988), p. A6.
 Bidding Prayer, King’s College Chapel’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
 John 1.1-3, 5
 The Nicene Creed, The Book of Common Prayer (1928).
 Luke 18.8
 “Day by Day” by Stephen Schwartz (b. 1948), from the off-Broadway musical Godspell (1971). Based on a prayer ascribed to the 13th century English Bishop Saint Richard of Chichester: “May I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly.”