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The Fourth Sunday in Advent
excerpt from
COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 1: Sunday Next Before Advent to Epiphany VI 
St. Peter Publications Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1.29).  All the themes of Advent converge on this day and climax in this witness of John.  Holy expectation cries out to the Lord: “Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come among us.” Holy desire bursts forth in the joy of anticipation: “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice.” We await the salvation of our God with a sense of his presence already stirring in our hearts: “the Lord is at hand.” Our preparation of prayer and penitence confesses our unrighteousness and God’s righteousness and seeks his goodness and his peace: in penitence “that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us’; in prayer that “in nothing be anxious:
but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.6-7).

All converges on Christ Jesus.  All is in readiness for his coming.  Man must wait; God shall surely act.  We wait in pregnant silence and in joyous anticipation for the coming of our Saviour, the Christ of God.  “When all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her swift course, then thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18.14).  We await the leaping down of God’s Word.  The gospel brings us to that moment when all is coming to fulfilment.  The Word of God in Scripture brings the preparation of prophecy in Elijah and in Isaiah to fulfilment in John the Baptist, who announces the coming of the Messiah in judgement and in humility.  “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” His coming is our Christmas celebration.  “Rejoice in the Lord!”

This week’s readings bring us to the great Festival of Christmas.  We leave off the weekday course of Advent readings after Morning Prayer on the day of Christmas Eve.

The Old Testament lessons from Isaiah proclaim the comfort of the Lord, whose “deliverance draws near speedily;” his “salvation has gone forth” (Is. 51.5).  We are exhorted to lift up our eyes to the heavens (51.6) for “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (52.10).  But the cost of our salvation is the sufferings of the anointed servant, the Christ (52.13 - 53 end); the babe of Bethlehem is the Christ of Calvary.  This is the compassion of Christ who re-establishes his covenant of peace as in the days of Noah (54.9-10), “with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (54.8).  The salvation of God gathers in all the peoples of the earth, ‘for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ (56.6-7).  The coming of the Lord brings peace to the far and to the near; he dwells with the humble in the high and holy place (57.15).  "He will come like a rushing stream (59.19) to establish his righteousness and our redemption.

The New Testament lessons from St. Mark’s Gospel draw us with Christ into Jerusalem, at once the city of the King of peace and the city of his passion.  Mark presents the purpose of Christ’s coming through his deeds—healing blind Bartimaeus, cleansing the temple, withering the fig tree—and in his words of prophecy, teaching and warning.  His coming means judgement and sacrifice.

The lessons from the Letter of Jude and 2 Peter write of our common salvation and the examples of disbelief and disobedience which oppose the salvation of God.  Sin sets us in opposition to the goodness of God and makes us dry and barren like “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” (2 Peter’2.17) and like “fruitless trees in late autumn” (Jude 1.12).  In the face of disbelief, Jude advises, “Pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1.20-21), and Peter recalls the promises of Christ that we may “become partakers of the divine nature” and enter into “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1.4 and 11).

Advent preparation and Christmas celebration come together at the Evensong of Christmas Eve with the prophecy of Zechariah of our Lord’s coming and the meditation of Hebrews on the purpose of his coming.  Lo, I come and I will dwell in the midst of you” (Zech. 2.10).  On such a holy night of joyous expectation Zechariah proclaims, “Be silent, all flesh before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (2.13).  The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that salvation is wrought by the suffering and sacrifice of Christ, who has taken upon himself our nature “that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death” (Heb. 2.14) and “to make expiation for the sins of the people” (2.17).