Third Sunday Before Advent


Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


God, our refuge and strength, bring near the day when wars shall cease and poverty and pain shall end, that earth may know the peace of heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Old Testament

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Jonah 3.1–5,10

5    Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul;
for in him is my hope.

6    He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

7    In God is my strength and my glory;
God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge.

8    Put your trust in him always, my people;
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

9    The peoples are but a breath, the whole human race a deceit;
on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.

10    Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride;
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

11    God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same,
that power belongs to God.

12    Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord,
for you repay everyone according to their deeds.

Psalm 62.5–12


For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgement, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Hebrews 9.24–28


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Mark 1.14–20

Sermon on Third Sunday Before Advent?

Can you imagine Ninevah – a city so large that if you were to walk from one end to the other, it would take you three days to make that journey? I suppose London and its environs would rival that great city of the ancient world in every way.

We can imagine the goings on in Ninevah because we can see the same sorts of things happening in London today. Is God wroth because of what is happening today, just as God was incensed with the citizens of Ninevah so long ago? Certainly we are upset with all the evil we see today, from the mild forms of rude behaviours like swearing at the innocent, which we have seen and perhaps experienced, to the reprehensible acts of knife crime and even murder reported on the news daily.

Then there are all the other shameful acts of bullying, exploitation and harm of all sorts which fill the spectrum of wretched human activity, all made known to each of us, either by responsible news gathering or mere gossip which travels faster than the speed of light.

When we hear such reports, don’t we all condemn such wicked behaviour in the same way that Jonah must have done in the name of the Lord, as he looked over at Ninevah? Why else would he be so upset when God changed his mind about the destruction of that great city? However, this is a very human reaction, isn’t it? That the promised event which was well deserved has been passed over. We all want the bad guy to get his or her comeuppance, and we are bitterly disappointed when we are not vindicated by such a well deserved punishment for evil acts perpetrated against the innocent – in other words, especially when they go against all I have done!

Jonah does take this all very personally, just as do we, when we see the evil people do, when we say that such evil deserves punishment and expect those dire consequences at every moment. But when it doesn’t happen, what do we do? We sit in our tents like Achilles and fester, or we rail against heaven like Jonah.

But Jonah’s prophetic work was effective! He prophesied about doom and destruction because of evil. The message was heard and people changed their ways. Ninevah was saved because God decided he no longer needed to destroy the city. God changed his mind, and Jonah is bitterly disappointed. Don’t we know all about this? Don’t we want to see the punishment of all that wickedness? Don’t we want to see good triumph over all that evil? Of course we do. Nothing else would be appropriate – even if everything had been turned around, even if everyone concerned had transformed what they had been into the righteous and good.

God changed his mind when there was a general conversion. He saw and it was good, to re-use that phrase from the creation story, and when the floods subsided he placed the rainbow in the sky for our hope and to remind all of his eternal mercy.

Why don’t we change our minds when we see genuine remorse and a transformation of behaviour – from that despicable to the good? The people of Ninevah discarded the gaudy, sensual silks for the sackcloth and ashes of repentance – they declared a fast and converted their behaviour from the shameful to the laudable? God was able to change his plans for all of Ninevah, wasn’t he? No longer was he going to level that great city to a pile of rubble because he saw that all had changed their ways.

Can’t we see what is happening to us today in much the same way as Jonah observed Ninevah? I am not saying the pandemic is a plague from the righteous God of Judgement, though some might argue that is the case. No, I am seeing the pandemic as if it were Jonah’s preaching of the destruction of civilization as we know it. And it did threaten just such a destruction – we only have to look at how many families have lost loved ones and how those lives have been wrecked. No, I would like to see the pandemic as a wake-up call for everyone to the precarious nature of life. This virus flitted through the world, bringing destruction in its wake – even it if is not the desolation of that great city – but the world is on the brink, isn’t it?

The health of the population of the whole world is at risk, we like the Ninevites changed our ways, and total depopulation was averted. We went into isolation, we wore  our masks – we changed our habits of work and play.

I would like to say the individual became valuable again. It was no longer the economy driving thought and prayer. We began to change what was normal – we even began to hope that there was a new normal which would keep those new values, especially as we began to think globally on the level of the individual. The environment has become key. How do we make the world safe for each and every one of us – for the future? Many saw indications that a global awareness of the individual was rising from the darkness of forgetfulness. There was an enlightenment on the horizon, if only …

But we have not had the conversion of the Ninevites, have we? Instead we have burst out of our bubbles and have dismissed everything we learned through lock-down. Even though we are in danger of spiralling into greater and greater numbers of covid instances we have made decisions to go back to the “old ways” – indiscriminate association, lack of protection, all those things which were the lessons learned in lock-down have been forsaken. We have returned to thinking in terms of economics rather than humanity, in terms of acquisition rather than the other and altruism. What would Jonah be thinking if the Ninevites had acted just as we are doing now? I think he would be prophesying destruction again, I think he would be expecting the end of that great city of Ninevah yet again. Their short fast and the wearing of sackcloth has been forgotten. Now we wear their silks and feast on extravagant dainties. Jonah would rightly be expecting the destruction of the modern Ninevah. I have to ask now – Have we returned to that old normal? I don’t think we have achieved the new normal of the conversion now. We need to remember the lessons of lock-down and forsake that past. After all, that old normality led us to the pandemic. We need to transform our lives in order to live to the fullest in the sight of God. This is what the prophets have always said. This is Jesus’ message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is right here among us.” I pray we have now truly changed our ways in order to be worthy of heaven.


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