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.”