Sunday 12 December 2021 | All Saints Margaret Street All Saints Margaret Street | Sunday 12 December 2021

Sermon for Sunday 12 December 2021

Third Sunday of Advent 2021

“…the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah.”

What kind of expectation were people full of as they questioned in their hearts about John?

That’s quite a complex question. The verb Luke uses for expecting in today’s gospel could have two quite different meanings, which biblical scholars, of course, love arguing about.

On the one hand it could mean waiting and expectation in the simple sense of wondering what might happen next – like waiting for a bus or a train. The crowd were intrigued to see what would happen to John, what the next bit of the story might be in the life of this extraordinary public figure.

On the other hand, however, there could be a much deeper meaning. This verb for expecting is also used in other parts of the New Testament to mean a much more profound sense of expectation. Eschatological expectation. Expectation in the sense of waiting for the coming of God’s Kingdom and the judgement God will give at the end of time.

So when that little throw away sentence from our gospel today says the crowd were full of expectation, it could actually mean the crowd was eagerly looking forward to nothing less than the saving of Israel by the Messiah, to the renewal of all things by God.

They were wanting to know what might happen next to John and who he was not out of mere interest, or curiosity but because their hearts were set on seeing God’s Kingdom.

As we make our way through Advent, it is good to examine the character of our expectation. Do we wait for Christmas like we would for a bus or train – simply expecting its grim repetition in our lives like we do dentists appointments or our car MOT?

Or do we bring a deeper sense of expectation – that through our yearly commemoration of Christ’s birth we discover something fresh about the Kingdom of God, and God’s intervention in human history?

St Thomas Aquinas makes a similar point when he talks about three ways in which people were attracted to Jesus.

He says some people were attracted to the man Jesus at the level of curiosity, to see what he had to say. For others, however, their attraction had a deeper character, and prompted penitence and a conversion of life.

But St Thomas teaches us there is an even deeper kind of response yet made to Jesus, which is conversion in the power of Pentecost – not just curiosity; not just penitence and change of life; but the gifts of the Spirit..

I think in many ways St Thomas’ ideas can be applied to our Advent expectation. Do we let our expectation remain at the level of mere curiosity, looking forward to the earthly pleasure of keeping Christmas, to giving presents and seeing friends? Or do we let a sense of expectation draw us deeper into the life of Christ?

Do we allow holy expectation to prompt in us a conversion of life, so that we turn away from sin and towards the Christ who is born in the stable. Or even better, does our joyful expectation lead us to the gifts of the spirit, as God resides within us in the fullness of his power?

If we do allow those fruits of the Spirit to grow within us this Advent, our epistle this morning shows us what they will look like.

St Paul teaches us “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone, for the Lord is near.”

Joy and rejoicing are the signs of God’s spirit within us as we approach Christmas. If we want to find one simple way of transforming our expectation so that God can use it to touch others, joy is the simplest and easiest way of doing it.

Joy doesn’t cost anything, nor is it complicated; it doesn’t need years of practice, and isn’t difficult to master. It is quite simply the natural response of a grateful heart. And if we cultivate joy as the principal character of our expectation this Advent, I think we come very close indeed to the heart of the gospel and to becoming the kind of Christian God can actually use to make a difference in this world.

Fr Peter Anthony