This Sunday has an immediate visual peculiarity, hasn’t it? It is one of the only two Sundays in our Liturgical year which raise a few eyebrows in churches, or perhaps some sniggering in the congregations regarding the apparel of the priests and the colour of our vestments.
It is the Sunday in which everything turns pink; or rose, if you will, as the vicar is always at pain to state. So, likewise we light a pink candle in our Advent wreath. Unfortunately, we do not have the money to purchase a rose frontal for the altar otherwise that would have looked pink too.
This rose colour, this “watered-down” version of purple as it were, matches the tone of our first two readings this morning. It suggests a pause in the penitential regime to which we are called in preparation of the Christmas celebrations.
The sorrow and the sombre penitence usually represented by purple vestments is turned into a quiet understated joy for a brief period of time in the assurance of the Lord’s coming to visit his people. This is to say, we are still in our exile; we are still invited to reflect on those actions which have separated us from God and neighbour, but our gloom is brightened by the promises we hear in our readings; the Lord will rescue us from this exile, he will come to his people and he will not delay. Hence the name of this third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, from the Latin rejoice; a name re-echoed at the beginning of our reading form St Paul, Rejoice in the Lord at all times.
There are another couple of distinctive features which sets apart this Sunday from most other ones in the year. I wonder if you have spotted them already. Those who participated to our Advent Course in the week have received a subtle hint. If you open our pew sheet and have a look at the collect, you may find that there is something different.
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.
Firstly, you may see that the collect is directed to Jesus, rather than God the Father, to whom the vast majority of collects are generally addressed. In the Book of Common Prayer there are only two other occasions in which the Collect is addressed to Jesus; on the feast day of St Stephen and on the first Sunday of Lent.
Therefore, an important statement of faith is made in this collect. The child whom we expect to come at Christmas in the lowliness of his birth is the same person to whom we now pray as the Lord of Lords. To pray directly to Jesus in this Advent season, especially on this Sunday should remind us that we are not just waiting to commemorate Christ birth in a few days, but that above all we are waiting for the day when Christ glorified will return in glory to lead us home – as our first reading says.
Secondly, this collect is a petition of the whole congregation for the ministers and stewards of divine mysteries that they may conform their ministry according to the example of St John the Baptist who prepared the way to the Lord by turning the hearts of the disobedient to wisdom.
A stewards of the mysteries of Christ, all ordained ministers - and priests in particular – serve those who attend Christ's Banquet with that which the Lord himself has provided. However, like St John, they are called to play a pivotal role in the spiritual journey of every Christian and on the conversion of society. If the ministers are faithful as stewards they will be God's agents in bring people to repentance from sin and commitment to holiness and service of the Lord.
May God inspire more prayers like this one; and may you pray without ceasing for those in the ordained ministry, that is for those who have been called to administer the sacraments and the word of God. Amen.