A sermon for Advent 3, preached at St Mary’s, Fordingbridge, 17/XII/17, by Canon Gary Philbrick.

Is 61:1-4,8-11, Jn 1:6-8,19-28

Advent is the season of imperatives!  Watch!  Pray!  Rejoice!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding!  Be alert!  Be on your guard!  Wake up, the time is near!  And so on.

It’s a season of weighty themes – the Four Last Things – Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgement.  In the Reading from Isaiah we heard the announcement of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom on earth, as the Good News is preached, the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk – words which Jesus used of himself when preaching in the Synagogue in Caperneum at the start of his public ministry [Is 61:1 & Lk 4:18-19].  And from the beginning of John’s Gospel we heard of John’s preaching in the wilderness, and of his testifying to the light which is coming into the world [Jn 1:6-8].

Advent is a season of imperatives, of weighty themes, and a time for action and reflection.  It’s a time of expectancy and hope – that God will in Christ return to save his people, and that somehow, the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world even now – combining thoughts of Jesus’ first coming, being born in the stable at Bethlehem, with thoughts of his second coming in glory at the end of all time.

It’s an exciting and expectant time, a time for thought, reflection and action.

And this morning, in the midst of what is for lots of people a rather hectic time, I thought we’d spend a few moments at the reflective end of the spectrum.  For many people there is no shortage of action at this time of the year – too much to do, in fact.  But we find it more difficult to find time for reflection and prayer.

First, a short poem by James Hart, simply called ‘John The Baptist’, in the form of a ‘Wanted’ poster, reflecting on John’s character and calling.  What must he have been like when he appeared in the wilderness?

Wanted: John the Baptist

Clothing: Camel’s hair and leather Girdle
Food: Locusts and Wild Honey
Home: In the wilderness
Family: Connections with Jesus
Job: Greatest of prophets
Message: Repent and believe

If found: Follow or decapitate; Take your pick…


It is in John’s Gospel that we are told that John ‘Came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him’ [Jn 1:7].

He came to ‘testify to the light’.  You should have had a copy of an image by Jan Richardson called, ‘Testify to the light’, which you might like to look at now.

Image: Testify to the Light  © Jan Richardson

Jan is an American painter and writer, who collaborated very closely with her husband, the singer/songwriter, Garrison Doles, known as Gary, until his early death in 2013.

Alongside the image, she writes:

In Belfast there is a woman who lights candles for Gary and me.  She has a gift for finding thin places: an eleventh-century stone sanctuary; a whitewashed church in the mountains of Wales; a chapel crypt on the Yorkshire moors that holds the bones of Saint Cedd.  In those places, on an altar or in the chink of a wall, Jenny lights a candle, and she prays—not merely in memory of what was, but in hope and in blessing for love that endures and life that persists on both sides of the veil.

Here on my brokenhearted side of the veil, the light comes as solace and unexpected grace.  In this dark time, when there is no one who can walk this road for me or lessen what has been lost with Gary’s death, the light comes as a vivid reminder that we have, at the least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.

It matters that we hold the light for one another.  It matters that we bear witness to the Light that holds us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across borders, across time.

Who holds the light for you?  In this season, who might need you to hold the light for them in acts of love and grace?

And she follows those words with this poem, which I heard this week, and which led me to her image and her story:

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.


Finally, a poem by Christine Sine, called:

Breathing in Advent

In this season of waiting,
breathe in life.
Life of the One
who created all things,
whose image we bear.

In this season of waiting,
breathe in love.
Love of the One
who gave a precious Son
to live as one of us.

In this season of waiting,
breathe in peace.
Peace of the One
who calmed the sea
and quiets the tumult of our souls.

In this season of waiting,
breathe in hope.
Hope that the One
for whom we wait
Is indeed making all things whole.


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