So begins the hymn that really does belong to the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday.
Where do I begin? There are so many strands that I am struggling to weave them – so I offer them to you as they are, to do with as the Spirit moves you!
It’s Gaudete Sunday because Advent is a season of preparation and penitence (like Lent) and the Church tradition is that the third Sunday of these seasons is a day off from the fasting, and we get to rejoice and eat some good food!
How apt therefore that this Sunday, we are blessed to have Bishop Gavin coming to lead our benefice service at Buckland – it’s great to welcome him here for the first time.
But to return to John the Baptist. He wasn’t exactly the most subtle or soft-spoken of people. But then prophets rarely are! Perhaps if I wanted to summarise his words from today’s gospel reading, it might be, “Don’t be complacent!” It’s so easy to become very complacent, and very comfortable, and think that everything’s okay because we are okay.
But oh how quickly things can change! There is no room for complacency for any of us. Surely Covid has taught us that in this past couple of years! But there is also the call to ensure that our actions and our words match, and that our religion is of the heart, and not only the outward appearance.
This Sunday, Mike Sheil begins his Rough Sleep, one night in each churchyard in the benefice, sleeping out under a tarpaulin. He’s doing it to support YoCO and Aspire, two Oxford charities helping homeless and vulnerable young people. And again this year, we are appealing for Toys and Toiletries as gifts for all the guests at the Oxford Christmas Lunch.
John the Baptist calls us to rise from any complacency, to take action, to examine our own lives and hearts, to ensure that we are attentive to the presence of Christ within our hearts, calling us to make sure he isn’t squished in a tiny corner, but given space in the very centre. I’m sure we will find some dusty cobwebs and dirty corners that are rather embarrassing. We all have them. And we can all do with a little clean-up.
But there is also much to celebrate this Gaudete Sunday. So, rejoice with me, that God so loved the world that he sent his Son – a light shining in the darkness – to dwell in our hearts through faith, and to be with us always.