May I speak in the name of the living God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Well good morning, for those who don’t know me, my name is Tim Brunt.
I am currently a third year Ordinand training at St Augustine’s college, which means that, God willing, I will be ordained next June and become a curate somewhere.
I am currently on a short placement here at St Johns to gain experience of a tradition different from my own. And I thank Fr John for allowing me to speak to you today.
I’m pleased to say I have passed my first test by not tripping up on the way into the pulpit.
In my church when speaking I would normally be at a lower level and not so dressed up.
I may get to like the dressing up and speaking from a pulpit….
Well we have now reached the third Sunday of Advent and it’s the Sunday where we specifically remember John the Baptist.
There is much joy and anticipation in today’s readings.
Isaiah anticipates the joy that awaits those that are oppressed, broken hearted, those who are captive and the prisoners.
There is Good news to the oppressed,
Good news to bind the broken hearted;
Liberty to the captives
And release to the prisoners.
The psalm also has many ‘shouts of joy’.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians conveys a sense of joy and that Christians must ‘Rejoice always’, the two words that make up the first verse in our New Testament reading today…..
The joy is perhaps less obviously reflected in John’s Gospel reading.
Although there is the beautiful passage right at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John like Mark gives us no romantic Christmas imagery of shepherds, stables and Kings, but gets straight to the point to tell us about John the Baptist.
A man whose own story we all know will end tragically.
But there is joy in the reading, joy because John is the one who will cry out from the wilderness and be making straight the way of the Lord.
The Gospel writer John, like all the other Gospel writers, quotes Isaiah chapter 40 verse 3, which was part of one of our readings last week:
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Isaiah has the voice crying into the wilderness and the Gospel writers out of the wilderness.
Either way the message is clear.
There is good news to those who are in the wilderness. The Good news of the coming of the Christ Child.
Now when we talk of wilderness we often think of a desert or maybe a jungle.
But there are other kinds of wilderness.
The wilderness that people are in when they are oppressed or broken hearted.
The wilderness of those who are captive or prisoners.
Those in places of fear and uncertainty.
This strange year has meant many of us have felt at times in the wilderness.
Many may still feel in the wilderness.
The thought of being in the wilderness made me reflect on my friend Patricia.
One Sunday, many years ago, Patricia and her children arrived at the church I attended.
This was back in the early 70s and I was young myself (very young) and I don’t actually remember the specific Sunday.
But I do know she kept coming back to church.
I do remember that people did not speak to her or mix with her.
Now as you can probably guess there was something different about Patricia, or should I say there was something different about us.
Patricia had recently moved into the area and, having recently split from her husband, was a single mum. But there was something else.
Patricia came from West Africa – she was a women of colour.
She was probable the first person of colour to regularly attend the church.
The church was on the edge of a white working-class estate and this was in the early seventies.
People treated her with fear and suspicion.
She must have felt very isolated and in the wilderness.
Sadly her experience was not unique in the church of England at the time and many people from other backgrounds left the church because they felt unwelcome.
The church made them feel like they were in a wilderness.
It was a sad loss to the Church of England.
Thankfully things have changed and I know, from personal experience, that churches like St John’s are a very welcoming place.
But I realise I speak from a privileged white male perspective.
This year has shown us that there is still some way to go regards race relations.
The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted that we still have more to do.
That is why opportunities to talk and discuss different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds are important.
Opportunities like the current Advent course being run by Fr Tom.
Back to Patricia.
Patricia is a women of great faith and strength of character
I am pleased to say that Patricia is now a friend, and she now plays a key part in the church that she walked into with her children all those years ago.
This has more to do with the grace of God and that character of Patricia than the welcome she initially received.
So what is our message for today?
There are many in the World today who could be in the wilderness.
Maybe even some in the church today.
This may be for lots of different reason.
Those who are oppressed,
Those who are broken hearted
Those who feel like captives
Those who are imprisoned
There may well be a Patricia in the church today.
She or he may not be obvious by the way they look or by their skin colour.
I pray that if you are in that situation that you feel the grace of God and have the strength of Patricia.
For the rest of us let us pray that we can recognise those who are in the wilderness and together we may all experience the joy that Isaiah, the psalmist, Paul and John talk about
John the Baptist called out to those in the wilderness, to prepare them for the coming of Christ.
Today we must call out to them to tell the Good News of the coming of the Christ Child.