The Third Sunday in Advent

Today we welcome this third Sunday in Advent and join together in worship. Our service is led by Rev. Dr. Mattijs Ploeger – join us.

Opening Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.



Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
New Testament Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Gospel Reading: John 1: 6-8, 19-28



Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, 13 December 2020,
at the Anglican Church Haarlem by the Revd Dr Mattijs Ploeger

1. Purple and rose

Within the periode of Advent, this third Sunday stands out as a special day. Whereas the overall liturgical colour of Advent is purple, the liturgical colour of this Sunday is rose or pink. The symbolism of liturgical purple is that it is a rather dark colour, the colour of the penitential seasons before Christmas and Easter, the colour of preparation and self-examination. The symbolism of liturgical rose is that the purple lightens up. The Third Sunday of Advent is a joyful Sunday in an otherwise rather austere liturgical period. Not all churches possess such rose vestments, so we have to imagine our purple being somewhat brighter than on the other Sundays…

2. Rejoice

The ancient introit, or opening chant, of this Sunday begins with the words from St Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. In Latin: “Gaudete” – sometimes used as the name for this Sunday. This year, our second reading started with that word as well. “Rejoice always” [1 Thess. 5,16]. Not just because that would be nice, but because it is a very Christian thing to do. The whole sentence in our second reading runs as follows: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” In this short line, St Paul seems to summarise key elements of the Christian faith. To start with: all of the Trinity is present here – “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit”. And what is the will of Father, Son and Spirit for us? That we should rejoice, pray and give thanks. Apparently, rejoicing is a basic attitude of a Christian, like praying and giving thanks.

3. Basic trust – inward rejoicing before the face of God

Of course, Christians are persons with different characters. Some Christians are given to optimism, others to pessimism, although they would rather call it realism… But whatever our personal inclinations may be, as Christians we are called to “rejoice”, to make “joy” a fundamental part of our lives. This cannot mean some superficial kind of jolliness, a constant cheerfulness. Let’s hope that all of us do know such moments of simple joy. But as a fundamental mark of the life of a Christian, there must be something deeper to joy. Sometimes people cry for joy. Sometimes people find themselves in difficult circumstances, but nevertheless feel some inner joy within themselves. In our second reading, joy is the complement of praying and giving thanks. So it is a joy before God. Praying to God – giving thanks to God – being joyful to God. Being joyful before the face of God. Even when we do not pray, even when we do not consciously think of God, we live our lives in a kind of “basic trust”, we live our sometimes difficult lives trusting that God is at the fundament of our lives. I think, that might be what St Paul means in our second reading: pray, give thanks, and rejoice. Rejoice, because you are always in God’s hands. Rejoice, because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit”.

4. St John the Baptist – “I am not the Messiah”

But apart from this theme of “rejoicing”, Advent would not be Advent without St John the Baptist. We encountered him in the gospel reading. When I prepare a sermon, I usually read the biblical reading aloud. And when I was reading aloud today’s gospel, I had to smile at a certain point.

The introductory lines of this reading are quite solemn. Something important is being announced. “There was a man sent from God”. “He came as a witness to testify to the light”. “This was the testimony given by” him. Well, that’s an announcement. But now – what is his testimony? “I am not the Messiah” [John 1,6-7.19-20].

That made me smile. Because after all those solemn introductory lines, the actual testimony – “to the light”, “sent by God” – is only a disclaimer, a negation. “I am not the Messiah”. It is followed, of course, by the quotation from Isaiah – “I am the voice […] in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord”. But today I want to concentrate on his first statement – this unseeming, somewhat disappointing testimony about what he is not.

5. Acknowledging that we are not the Messiah
is an element of preparing the way for him who is the Messiah

There is a fundamental lesson to be learned from this statement by John the Baptist. In some sense, all we can do to prepare the way of the Lord Jesus, is by admitting: I am not the Messiah. I am not God. I am not the one who will save and redeem this world. John the Baptist makes himself the voice of all humanity, standing before Christ, standing before God, and saying: I am not Christ, I am not God.

John’s words remind me of a Psalm [115,1.16]. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy Name give praise”. “All the whole heavens are the Lord’s: the earth hath he given to the children of men”. God is God. We are not God. We are not the saviour of the world. With all our economic progress, we are not the saviour of millions of people on this earth. With all our technological progress, we are not the saviour of the planet. With all our psychological knowledge, we are not the saviour of depressed people. With all our religious inventiveness, we cannot transcend our human self.

St John the Baptist helps us to accept that we are human. And by doing so, he helps us to prepare ourselves for the coming of him who is the Messiah, who is God, who is the Saviour of the world. Therefore, the unseeming disclaimer, “I am not the Messiah”, is in fact, as so solemnly introduced: a God-sent testimony to the light. By acknowledging what we are not (God), we acknowledge what we are (human), and we acknowledge that we need the One who is “our light and our salvation” [Ps. 27,1]. In that, let us rejoice – always.


Prayers and Intercession

Mindful of the words of the prophet Isaiah, we gather our thoughts and prayers with hope and call on God to help us in our needs.
Holy God, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ our Saviour we ask that you will answer our prayers and make us a faithful people, fit to greet him with open hearts. May our Church leaders be blessed with wisdom to guide us through this season of Advent despite the pandemic, to a peaceful and joyful Christmas. We bring before you our Church here in Haarlem and ask that our Advent celebrations may help all who join with us to prepare a place in their hearts and homes for you and your son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Creator God, help the leaders of nations to seek justice and peace which come from the Word of God, may there be good news for the poor and the broken-hearted; release for those illegally or wrongly imprisoned and an end to the conflicts throughout the world which lead to so much grief and mourning. We pray for all those who are striving to adjust to a new way of being “normal” in these difficult times as Covid 19 continues globally.
Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Father God, your son Jesus lived an ordinary life in Nazareth, with human parents, brothers and sisters. He understands the difficulties faced in families. We pray for all of those involved in providing support for troubled families and strengthening community life. As we approach a Christmas season that looks very different from normal, we thank you, that while we may not be able to be with our families and loved ones in person, we know that You are always with us.
Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Merciful God, may your blessing be upon all those who are in pain or sickness, those who are anxious or troubled. Help us to feel your presence when we pass through dark places, and sustain us and all who suffer through pain and sorrow. Gracious God, may those who have died and gone from our lives, remain in our hearts and be remembered with love.
Lord in your mercy: Hear our prayer

Faithful God, as we continue this Advent journey, teach us to turn to you in times of joy and pleasure as well as we do when faced with fear and sorrow. Help us to put our differences behind us and be united with all nations and all people in Christ.
Merciful Father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen



The anthem: Creator of the Stars of Night – Malcolm Archer

The hymn: NEH 12 – On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry


Closing Prayer

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you, scatter the darkness from before your path, and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always.