The Third Sunday of Advent
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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. Amen
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The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you were to ask me what my favourite genre of film was, there would in my mind, be no contest: action. And even better than that, would be historical military action – war films in other words!
It’s no surprise then, as a teenager, that I loved films like ‘A Bridge too Far’, ‘The Battle of Britain’, ‘The Eagle has Landed’, but one of my all time favourites has to be a war film from another period. The film won a golden globe, then awards for best picture, best director, best makeup, best cinematography and so on… set not in the twentieth century, but the thirteenth in Scotland, it is of course ‘Braveheart’, with Mel Gibson playing the legendary warrior William Wallace.
The plot is centred around the vexed and reoccurring question of Scottish independence. Wallace stands against English rule and all that that represents, he leads a rebellion and quickly becomes a fighter for Scotland, proclaiming, in a rousing speech, ‘freedom from the enemy’.
After a series of victories on the battlefield, he is acclaimed almost as the Saviour of Scotland, and still, he is betrayed and is captured by the oppressors. Brought before the people is hanged, placed upon a cross, where is racked, drawn, and then finally beheaded.
Just before the axe strikes his neck, he sees his friends in the crowd, unable to speak. He is taunted, and the presiding judge asks if he wishes to have mercy, Wallace, rouses from his pain, the crowd anticipate his plea for mercy, and the film ends on the climactic note, when he screams ‘freedom’ with his dying breath.
Braveheart, despite being littered with historical inaccuracies, remains a favourite film of many; with its rousing rhetoric, stunning scenery, bloody battles, and scenes of suspense.
The sentiment behind Wallace’s great cry of freedom, connects in a rather profound way with the scriptures set for this, the Third Sunday of Advent or ‘Gaudete’, ‘Rejoicing’ Sunday as its often known. In light of the plot of film which I’ve just outlined, what can there be to rejoice about? The film ends with a horrific death. Scottish independence is far from secure and all seems lost. And yet rejoicing is still required, Saint Paul reminds the Thessalonians to ‘rejoice always’.
Isaiah states clearly: ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God’. There seems to be a great irony – rejoicing is ‘always’ required even in light of suffering and pain.
And whilst both Isaiah and Paul exhort us to rejoice, the words of the prophet it is those opening words of the prophet that give us the reason why we should, and can rejoice, even in times of adversity: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners’.
Isaiah is of course is referring to the Messiah; it is the Saviour who will be the cause of rejoicing. It is the coming Saviour who has been ‘anointed’ by the Spirit of the Lord, it is the coming Saviour, by his birth, life, death and resurrection who begins a new era – the year of the Lord’s favour – the rebuilding of our life of God. Isaiah was writing these words just after his people had been granted ‘freedom’ to return to their homeland after years of exile, after years of misery, after years of suffering; the ancient cities that had been destroyed will be rebuilt – everything will be given new life. Today, as we move ever closer to the coming of Christ – this is the message for us today. The coming of the Lord, the anointed one, will be the cause of our joy. How?
Well as William Wallace fought for freedom and proclaimed it with his dying breath, so too does the Messiah. He offers ‘freedom’ by coming to earth as one of us. Sharing our pain, living of life, dying our death. He comes to set us free. He says to those who feel oppressed – there is good news – your oppression is no more. He says to you, whatever may oppress you – can be overcome.
He says to those who have experienced destruction, or ruin in their lives – they shall be raised up. You, here today, will be raised up.
He says to those who are in captivity, those who are prisoners, be that literally or more likely, those imprisoned because of their sins – liberation is near. He says to you – I will release you from the chains of things that bind you. You will have true freedom; you will be released from the slavery which shackle you.
He says to those who are poor in their Spirit, to the broken hearted – you will have wealth – not material wealth – but joy in your heart. You here who are poor in Spirit – you will know joy.
Do you want good news, do you want your brokenness to be bound, do you want liberty, do you want to be released from your prison of sin, do you want all of this?
Advent is about realising that what we long for, all of those things, are available to us in the Messiah, who comes to ‘clothe with the garment of salvation’. He takes off us a ragged robe of sin and puts on our shoulders the real robe of righteousness.
This is the cause of our rejoicing – this is why we can rejoice at all times, whatever the circumstances, whatever the situation, whatever the pain – we can rejoice because of God’s faithfulness to us, even when we are unfaithful to him. Because, in the words of the gospel reading, proclaimed once again by Saint John, the one who is coming is ‘the light’, he is the Messiah, he comes after John and is more powerful than he, he is coming to us. He the good news in person – he the one whom the Lord has anointed – he the one who brings true freedom, Our only Saviour, Jesus Christ. May we, in the words of John the Baptist, turn to him, and rejoice in the freedom he has won for us, and prepare our hearts to meet him when he comes.
Rejoice in the Lord always, I say again, rejoice,
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,
with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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