Third Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay

December 17, 2017

John the Baptist is quite the character, he is both the last of the old testament prophets, and the first evangelist of the joyful good news of Jesus the Christ. Even in the womb, he leaps for joy when he recognizes the presence of Jesus in the greeting of Mary.  Right after his birth it is said of him, ’And you my child shall be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way….  To announce the tender compassion of our God.’  Later in life Jesus would say of John. ’No greater has ever been born than John the Baptist.’ Yet John says of Jesus, ’I am not worthy to undo the thong of his sandal’; and ’Behold the Lamb of God’.

John is the forerunner, the inaugurator, preaching a message of repentance.  John is the prototype, the model of a disciple, he points the way to the Way.  He himself is not the way.  The essence of John the Baptist is, ’He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John knows who he is not.  He is not Elijah, or, the prophet.  He is not the Messiah.  He is not the light.  Rather, ’He came as a witness to testify to the light.’

Likewise, you are not the way, I am not the way; Jesus is the Way.  The essence of discipleship is, ’He must increase, I must decrease’. We are not the light, like John, we are called to ’witness, to testify to the light.’ We are not Elijah, or, the prophet, but we are called to be ’the prophetic voice’.  After John told them over and over again who he was not, they asked, ’who are you? ….’’He said,’ I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.’

Often, just before I proclaim the gospel, I say a silent prayer.’ When they hear my poor words, let them hear your living voice’. A voice is more than just words, glibly spoken or a dead thing on a page.  A voice as a living thing, stamped with the personal witness and testimony of the one who speaks.  The ‘prophetic voice’ speaks of and for the other, it bears witness, and testifies to this other who is both present and on the way.  The prophetic voice speaks this living word into the here and now of our broken and fragmented lives. It cries out, thick with the labour and pain of the wilderness. ’The voice of one crying in the wilderness.’ This is John’s voice.  This is our voice.

The voice that was John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness of Judea.  A dry, and desolate place, with little food, and less water.  No wonder he hung around the Jordan River, and lived on a diet of locusts and wild honey.  This is a man who had been purified and disciplined by the desert, reduced down to a voice, crying out. ’Make straight the way of the Lord.’

The scriptures are filled with wilderness stories, with desert narratives.  Abraham and Sarah are nomads, sojourners, desert wanderers.  Wilderness is the place of their encounter with God.  It is in desert that Moses encounters the burning bush and receives his reluctant prophetic call.  In the Exodus, the people of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years.  Many of the prophet’s encounter God in the wilderness.  After his baptism Jesus retreats into the desert where he is tempted by the evil one.  Throughout his public ministry Jesus often goes out to a lonely place to pray, withdraws to the wilderness, the place of encounter with God.

What role does the wilderness, the lonely place, the desert, the experience of solitude play in our lives?  On the one hand, we may already feel alone, isolated, lonely, withdrawn, even in the middle of a busy life.  We may feel the need for re-collection, for space.  In this case, perhaps the desert experience is meant to awaken our thirst for God, for meaning, for wholeness.  On the other hand, each one of us, each in our own way, are called to make room for God in the Inn of our lives.  To carve out tiny moments of encounter, of solitude, desert, wilderness, the lonely place to pray.  It may be in the shower, because that is the only space we can get, or getting up earlier than everyone else in the house, or staying up late, or curling up with some good spiritual reading, or dropping in for a visit at church, just to say hello to Jesus in the tabernacle.  It may be joining a bible study, or some other program of spiritual formation, occasional daily mass, or, that long avoided retreat experience, or just a simple walk along the shore.  What is essential is to intentionally cultivate such moments or times apart.  We are all called to them, we all need these moments or sustained times of solitude, of encounter.  Without them it is all too easy to lose our joy, to be off-centered, dis-located. To lose our voice of witness, of testimony.

In joyful response to the still small voice uncovered in solitude, in listening prayer; let us endeavor to find our true voice. The voice that only God can give us. ’The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.’

The Chief medical Health Officer of Kingston has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
Please read and observe the six key principles outlined below.

1) The key principle is that we come to Mass to worship God. Out of justice and exercising the virtue of religion we must give God what is God’s due. That quite simply is worship, adoration and praise. Thus, the absolute essentials of Mass will be included so that the Sacramental praise of God will take place and we will be exposed to one another for as brief a time as possible.

2) The second key principle is that the health and safety of parishioners, staff and clergy here at St. Mary’s are essential and require our utmost concern and attention. Therefore, the dispensation from the obligation to come to Sunday Mass by Archbishop Mulhall continues to be in effect. Those who are sick, elderly or have other critical health concerns should not come at this time. However, that is left to your discretion. Should you make the choice to come, knowing the risks, you are most welcome.

3) The underlying principle of all of our restrictions in isolating, physically distancing, wearing masks etc. is the common good as we live out the Lord’s commission to “love one another.” We are to care for each other and at this time we are called to be as prudent and careful as we can to protect the health of everyone else and ourselves.
4) The principle for the next few weeks will be brevity. The received scientific wisdom is that the virus spreads within groups who spend a prolonged period of time together. Therefore, we will be reducing the Mass to the bare essentials.
5) Singing is considered more dangerous than speaking so you are asked to please not sing at all throughout the Mass. I will not be singing either.
6) If you have any sickness, are elderly or have a critical illness you should remain at home. The dispensation from the obligation to come to Mass continues through this time of 30% capacity. Of course, if you choose to come you will not be turned away. We will continue to live- stream the Masses until we are back to a more normal arrangement.

The Chief medical Health Officer has ordered that Masks must be worn at all places we gather indoors. That includes us here at the cathedral. We can’t supply everyone with a mask so please come with one. We would have a limited supply available for a loonie at the entrance of the cathedral.
We will pray a shorter Penitential Rite.
The Gloria will be said not sung. There is to be no singing by the congregation during the Mass. Only by a cantor or as we have today a physically distanced choir in the choir loft…3 metres apart.
We will only have one reading followed by the Psalm
The second reading will be omitted.
The choir will sing the Alleluia on Sundays. During the week it will be omitted. Please do not join in.
The Gospel.
A very brief (3-4 minute) homily will follow.
The Creed will not be prayed.
There will be no petitions. Please prepare your own petitions and offer them in your heart during the Mass.
There will be no procession of the gifts.
There will be no regular collections at this time in the Masses. It will happen later. Ushers will be at the doors to receive your offering as you leave.
The Eucharistic Prayer will be prayed. This is the Most Important Part of the Mass.
The Our Father
Sign of Peace. This is a time when we won’t shake hands. Please do not wave to each other or give the two finger sign of peace. Neither of these reflect what is the intention here…You are recognizing the presence of God in the other person and praying they know God’s peace. The most appropriate gesture is a slight bow or nod of the head to the other person. You have seen me do this at the sign of peace to all of you at every Sunday Liturgy.
Please be seated.
Then the ushers will direct you to the place where you will receive Holy Communion. Please do not leave your pew until an usher has indicated you should do so.
Another usher will be close to the Communion Station to receive your Sunday Offering.
When it is your turn to receive Holy Communion. You will stand 6 feet away on the red line. The person distributing Holy Communion will say “The Body of Christ”. You will say “Amen”. Then move forward within arms length and receive the Host. Once you have received go straight out the nearest exit and make your Thanksgiving on your way home.
Aisles 1 & 5 will come forward to receive Holy Communion and leave by the side doors.
Aisles 2, 3 & 4 will go to the back to receive Holy Communion.
Aisle 2 will exit by the exit closest to the rectory.
Aisle 3 will exit out the centre door which you came in
Aisle 4 will exit out the door by the washrooms.
You are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion in the hand. Receiving on the tongue endangers the person giving Holy Communion and yourself, the person receiving Holy Communion. If you wish to insist on receiving on the tongue please wait until the very end as the person giving Holy Communion should sanitize their hands after each communicant. The usher will pass you by and will come back to you after everyone else has received. Please don’t leave your pew until that has taken place.