s094^96 Somerton Park + 15/12/96 Advent 3
"He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him." John 1.7
The third Sunday in Advent is an interesting day in the church year, being called Gaudete Sunday, and on this day (along with Mothering Sunday in Lent) it is, I am told, permissible to wear rose coloured vestments, (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church p551). I don't ever recall ever seeing rose coloured vestments, let alone any one wearing them.
We are so familiar with the traditional colours of Green, Red, White and Purple, that few, if any realise that the schema we all think of as sacred and universally accepted, is in fact just one of a number of differing traditions.
The book: "The Ritual Reason Why" by Charles Walker, first published in 1866, lists other colours as black "made use of at funerals and on Good Friday". It continues: "Yellow is employed for feast of confessors. Blue is used indifferently with green as the ferial colour, and brown or grey ... for penitential times" (p29,30). I have also heard of blue vestments used on feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The purple vestments that are traditionally worn during Lent and Advent are not the colour of the penitential season. Penitence; being sorry for one's sins; is symbolised by sackcloth and ashes; brown or grey. Purple, the colour of kings; symbolises the Victory of God, and reminds us that every Sunday, in Lent or Advent or not, is always a feast day. It was the rich man who wore "purple and fine linen" in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Sundays are feast days, even during Lent. One should never fast on Sundays. There are forty ordinary weekdays to do that. This is the reason why I don't omit the "Gloria" in Lent or Advent, following the modern liturgical trends derived from the Catholic Church.
I should add that I do not want to have vestments of these other colours made. I don't think I could quite come at wearing rose coloured vestments. Nor would I want brown, grey or sackcloth vestments because I don't think one celebrates the Holy Communion when one is focussing on one's repentance. Similarly it is not generally traditional in our branch of the Church to have a celebration of the Holy Communion on Good Friday.
All this is just preliminary to my text for today: John the Baptist heralding Jesus as the Light of the World. We live as people of the light, and as a result of that light we can see and appreciate all the colours and diversity of the world around us. As the same book, mentioned earlier, puts it: "all colours are employed at the dictation of taste, to His glory Who created the many hues of nature, and gave to man the power of seeing, and deriving pleasure from them." (p30)
We live as people of the light. Sadly however some see light as only illuminating the deficiencies in others rather than the beauty of their differences. How others fail to live up to our expectations, rather than to see that they have something to contribute to our existence. I was interested and humbled to see in last Saturday's edition of the Adelaide Advertiser an advertisement by the Ministry Team of the South Australian Baptist Union Inc, affirming multiculture Australia and deploring all forms of prejudice regardless of race or ethnic background. Humbled because the statement went on the say: "We are sorry for the hurt caused when Baptist Churches fail to live out this belief ..." A truly remarkable statement which should cause all denominations to ponder.
We live in a world of colour which we see by the light of God. Our world is not one of black and white, even though sometimes we would like it to be.
It is almost in microcosm of this that St Paul speaks to the Thessalonians in that lovely passage read today: "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything." (5.19-21) The first, the Spirit, which is more often associated with an unthinking and uncritical "letting go", a response from the depths of one's emotional being. Please do not take what I say in the least bit critical; the biblical precedence for this is large, and there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that modern "scientific" humanity in particular, needs to reconnect with their emotions. But there is a check and balance, immediately given. Our translation says "Test everything"; another puts it: "Think before you do anything" (Jerusalem Bible). This is quite the antithesis to getting in touch with our emotions.
John the Baptist, the stern, self depreciating ascetic, fearlessly denouncing corruption in high places, when such people had no protection afforded by our modern freedom of speech, but could and often did lead to having one's head cut off, had his place in God's plan. But he should not to be taken as the sole archetype of all Christian discipleship. Even when "the Son of Man came eating and drinking" (Matt 11.19) the goodness of God shone through that life in such a way as to ensure his crucifixion. I want to suggest that there is no more or less courageous way of ministry, there is support and opposition for both. Even the little things we do for God - others are want to dismiss as "silly".
I want to state emphatically that God does not call us to die for him. Any dying to be done for God has already been done, and that by his Son. To me this is quite fundamental. In other countries and cultures, children are not sent to the equivalent of Confirmation Classes, they are taught to use weapons of war and are indoctrinated with the ideal of martyrdom which seems to me to be indistinguishable from the State.
It is quite true that there have been Christian martyrs, but in the main these have been elderly, well experienced in the faith "not like children carried away with every blast of vain doctrine" (as the Collect for St Mark puts it). They themselves have wished to testify to their own faith in the goodness and kindness of God. This has a quite different feeling from a God calling a mass of humanity, and in particular, young boys, before even the flower of their youth, to die for him.
Our God is a God of light; "in him there is no darkness at all". (1 John 1.5) Light cannot be stopped; those who have attempted to set up a darkroom for photographic purposes have soon found this out. Today let us rejoice that God is in charge, that His message of love and light is being spread throughout the world by all sorts of different people in all sorts of differing ways. Let us rejoice also that this includes we ourselves, even though we might feel we are not up to the standard of the great martyrs and evangelists we hear of in history and around us.
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