Third Sunday of Advent


Old Testament

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,

   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,

   and rejoice with joy and singing.

The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,

   the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.

They shall see the glory of the Lord,

   the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,

   and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

   ‘Be strong, do not fear!

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.

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,

   and streams in the desert;

the burning sand shall become a pool,

   and the thirsty ground springs of water;

the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,

   the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,

   and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,

   but it shall be for God’s people;

   no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,

   nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;

they shall not be found there,

   but the redeemed shall walk there.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,

   and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;

   they shall obtain joy and gladness,

   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:1–10


5  Who made heaven and earth,

      the sea and all that is in them; •

   who keeps his promise for ever;

6  Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong •

   and bread to those who hunger.

7  The Lord looses those that are bound; •

   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;

8  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; •

   the Lord loves the righteous;

9  The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;

      he upholds the orphan and widow; •

   but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.

10  The Lord shall reign for ever, •

   your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.


Psalm 146


Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 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.

James 5:7–10


When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘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 offence at me.’

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

   who will prepare your way before you.”

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:2–11

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.

Sermon on Third Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist is a figure in the gospel to whom I return time and again – not just because the lectionary and the liturgical calendar go to him from time to time, but because I find him a lynch-pin between the OT and the NT. John is a prophet for his generation, since there is one to come for whom he prepares the way. Prophets speak of the Kingdom of God in no uncertain terms, don’t they? The prophets speak the truth of the situation wherever and whenever they find themselves. I want to believe a figure like John the Baptist arises in every generation – someone to speak the Word of God in season and out of season.

John spoke before Herod and Herodias. who really did not want to hear what he had to say, did they? I wonder whether we want to hear what our present-day prophets have to say about our life and times. Our prophets could say a lot about the people in the news, couldn’t they?

The people in the news are fêted for their celebrity, their fame. The Time magazine Personality of the Year has raised so many people to this height, but for what reason? Are they prophets for our generation? Do they stand for truth and justice? We should be looking for the prophets among ourselves, not the notorious self-flatterers. Does the Personality of the Year award really concentrate our minds on the meaning of life?

I wonder why these Personalities are so fêted. They are people just like me, flawed by original sin, yet saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. Why haven’t I been on the cover of the magazine? I honestly think that even we in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church have this “competition” for personality amongst ourselves, within our own parochial community. This raises a question of how we value our contemporaries. Can we talk of our friends and neighbours as Jesus did of John, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Are we trying to say that about our fellows, or has the cult of celebrity even touched our attempt at valuing the other as we should? Or to put it another way, have we been seduced by fifteen minutes of fame? Do we do things just to put on our cv, or because they are right and good?

Can we say anything like Isaiah about what we expect for the future?

A highway shall be there,

   and it shall be called the Holy Way;

the unclean shall not travel on it,

   but it shall be for God’s people;

   no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.

This is a description of what we know as the “straight and narrow way”, isn’t it? Didn’t our parents tell us what that road was? We all know where we should be walking, don’t we?

We need to listen to the prophets. And John is one of the prophets in my mind, but he also projects something which touches us because he touched our Lord in the water of baptism. John was a preacher in the wilderness, wandering in those uncivilised places because the Spirit moved him to those barren regions. John left the city to proclaim a different way of life, one that did not rely on temple and city for validation. John proclaimed the Kingdom. His message was one of uncompromising honesty. He called for repentance, for a change of life because of the perverseness of the everyday-normal life. His life was one of expectancy, a waiting for the one who was greater than he, the one whose sandals he was not worthy to touch.

Whom do we expect? Does the “personality of the year” proclaim anything like John the Baptist? Does his voice ring out with truth for the ordinary person? Does he point to something which will transform life as we know it? Will we hear about that Way which “shall be for God’s people where no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray”?

I am afraid that I have not heard any message from our current politicians about such a road building plan. Rather, all I hear of are walls and isolation, a castigation of the stranger and an impersonal conformism. Do we hear the Personality of the Year say “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”? Can he say “blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me”?

We set ourselves up for controversy. We delight in thumbing our noses at those with whom we do not agree. Do we work to bring Good News to our neighbours? Do we go to the prisons to bring succour – or do we cast people away forever into the dungeons?

I am asking too many questions today. I am asking about the place of prophecy in our time. I am, in fact, condemning my own complicity with the Personality of the Year.

Can anyone say that the words of Isaiah have been fulfilled in your hearing? Jesus did, but has the Kingdom of God come? Are we the least in that kingdom? I don’t think so. With that judgement of myself, I have to look up to John as the greatest of those born to woman. All of us would be unworthy to touch his sandal, we who are born of woman. Who will wash his feet as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples?

Jesus tells us exactly who – those who are not born of the flesh, who have forsaken even family. Jesus proclaims the Kingdom open to those born of the Spirit, those who are borne by the wind of change which blows into our lives in order to transform them. The Spirit turns the heart of stone into one of flesh, the stiff-necked people into a caring community. John proclaimed the same message of repentance as Jesus did, but no one wanted to hear the “reed in the wilderness” – nor did they want to listen to anyone in royal palaces dressed in soft robes.

What a condemnation of ourselves! To whom shall we listen, if neither to the outcast nor those in positions of authority? Jesus, the prophet, demands an answer from us – here and now.

O God, for whom we watch and wait,

you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:

give us courage to speak the truth,

to hunger for justice,

and to suffer for the cause of right,

as we prepare the way of your Son’s second coming.


This sermon is from Stilman Davis. It is copyrighted. You are welcome to use it, but put some extra money in the plate if you do.

Sermons are spoken. They whistle in the wind and enter your ears to echo for some time between them. However, sermons are destined to go on into the distance after they have resonated with you.