Wednesday, November 30, 2022

An Advent Rule of Life


Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the

works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now

in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ

came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when

he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the

quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through

him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent


The Book of Common Prayer sets forth a holistic vision for Christian faith and practice, providing both theological teaching and guidance for living that teaching.  The Collects – prayers for the various Sundays and major Holy Days through the year – are one of the chief repositories of that guidance.  The role played by the Collect of the Day in any given worship service is of great significance, and careful study of these prayers is richly repaid.


The Collect for each Sunday is used at the daily services throughout the week following (with the exception of major Holy Days with their own Collect), and this affords us time to do that deeper consideration which marks a maturing, generous, and healing faith.


The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, surely one of the greatest of the Prayer Book’s contributions to Christian prayer, is a fine example of this capacity to integrate teaching and practice.


It begins with a call to God for grace (meaning the experience of God’s presence and power) enabling us to do two very Advent-themed things, in language drawn directly from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: cast off works of darkness and be clothed with the armor of light.  It then positions this work in the context of our era – the “era of the Church” – between Christ’s first coming and his second.  Thus, the Collect illustrates the unique meaning of Advent as a season of preparation for the yearly celebration of Christ’s Nativity at Christmas and the ongoing preparation for a final reckoning – of ourselves as individuals and the human race and its history as a whole.


This prayer is not just about delivering teaching or information: that is not enough to our way of praying.  It connects faith with a response to that faith. 


The Christian journey is at every stage a deeper confrontation with all that is alien to God – alienation manifest in thoughts, words, and deeds born of darkness.  Christ’s teaching in the Gospel begins with the same message St. John the Baptist proclaimed: Repent! – from obvious sins as well as from less-obvious ones like cynicism and judging others.  A central aspect of Advent is waking up from slumber and getting ready for what is coming, taking stock of what we are.


Our journey with God is not only about repentance, however.  It is also about growing in grace and sacred knowledge, that “armor of light” about which St. Paul speaks.  Our life is more than negative (avoiding sin).  It is a positive embrace of what God has in store for us as his children. This can mean getting away from electronic devices (like the computer/phone on which you are reading this!) for an extended period of time each week or day so as to pray or read Scripture.  It can also mean learning to listen to others from a position of curiosity and interest.


What emerges from this prayer is a “rule of life” for the Advent season: calling upon God to reveal and cast away the works of darkness in our life and to cloth us with the protection of light in the place of that darkness. Note that this is not a do-it-yourself project (so dear to the modern American mind), but something that can only be done in concert with God’s grace and leading – a drawing together of human and divine will in harmony, inspired by Christ’s “great humility” we are preparing to celebrate at Christmas.


Advent is a short season, and that is part of its message. We do not have forever. We live in time and have been given our life to learn how to love.  This week’s Collect is a striking example of one way the Anglican/Episcopal way of faith engages our total self – mind, body, spirit – in this process of learning. This prayer’s urgency (“now in the time of this mortal life”) is a final Advent theme: let’s get to work now, for now is all we have before the God who is the “Eternal Now.”



Saturday, November 19, 2022

A Different Kind of King: The Last Sunday after Pentecost

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The last Sunday of the Church Year in the current calendar emphasizes humanity’s need for salvation.  It speaks of our kind being “divided and enslaved by sin,” and prays that we may all be “freed and brought together.” Ah, but exactly how?


The desire to conform the divided and contentious human race to a single standard and rule is an ancient one, fueling millennia of empires, wars, intrigues, and revolts.  It has also led to some of the greatest art and literature humans have produced.  The difficulty is that the usual attempt at uniting peoples has been through force or coercion – which ends up just bringing us to the next chapter in division, enslavement, and alienation.


This Sunday gives God’s response to our need for salvation, healing, and freedom: Christ Jesus, a different kind of king. 


When the earliest Christians began calling Jesus “Lord,” they were being quite specific in this term of address.  Using a title reserved for earthly rulers (and, in the Roman world, for only one ruler – you know who) revealed Christians as a dangerous and subversive community of people.  In an empire built on force and coercion, the Christian Church exalted service, self-sacrifice, and meekness – as did its Lord Jesus. The currency of this rival empire was in an untried coinage, one which did not take death as its starting and ending point: the coinage of love.


In addition to positing a higher loyalty than the to the Emperor, this alternative vision for humans was utterly despicable to those who were invested in the world-as-it-is.  As Jesus had predicted, his Gospel brought conflict with the Powers that Be, who quickly decided that they must stamp the mutiny out.


As long as humans think that true freedom or peace can be found at the end of a gun’s barrel, or by putting a boot on someone’s neck, we will be caught in the cycle of insanity that is recorded history.  When any of us, even for a season, step out of that cycle and put into practice the Gospel vision for freedom and peace – this Sunday expressed in the words of the crucified Christ: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”– by praying for one’s enemies and by handing over all hatred, judgment, and condemnation to the only one who sees all things in truth, then for that moment and in that place the Kingdom of God is present.  Fleeting, perhaps, but present.  For a moment, the lie is overcome in truth.


This final Sunday of the Church Year reminds us that no other solution to the conundrum of human brokenness will, in fact, work. Only Christ’s “most gracious rule” can give the freedom and peace we desire. Only his peculiar lordship, one completely devoid of a desire to coerce, will unite a divided world. Try as we might to avoid it, this is humanity’s destiny. It is what we proclaim in our faith, what we enact in our worship, and what we are challenged to practice in our daily lives.