Our Rich Liturgical Heritage:
The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain
The two advents of the Lord Jesus Christ assure us that life is going somewhere. The four BCP Collects for Advent are especially helpful in maintaining confidence during the changes and chances of this fleeting world.
Navigating the challenges of our uncertain world, with our frail bodies, sinful thoughts, alluring temptations, along with the Devil’s insinuations that God is neither good nor loving, is made possible as we pray prayers like these. By highlighting a phrase or two from each, I hope to whet your appetite for each Collect and the sequence they set before us.
The assurance of judgement in the 1st Collect: that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and the dead reminds us of our nobility before God. We are not randoms with no purpose in life. Being made in God’s image we are to honour Him and are accountable to Him for the way we live out this unique privilege. Thankfully, this accounting will be according to grace as the words: in which thy Son came to visit us in great humility indicate.
The grace of salvation is set forth in the 2nd Collect’s memorable: and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of eternal life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. In the face of certain judgement, comfort and assurance can only be ours if salvation is a gift, to be received by faith and not earnt by our works. This door of grace closes when we die and sets the agenda for faithful ministers. Hence the prayer in Advent 3: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight. Our eternity depends on the response we make to God’s grace. Life is invested with purpose and hope as we throw our lot in with our crucified and risen Lord of glory.
No grace could be so gracious, nor warning so timely since our affluent West, in the words of Gordon Fee, ‘having lost any sense of need for future hope…is trying to make the present eternal’. Frans Leenhardt sobers us up with his warning: ‘what madness it is to join in this puppet show which is displayed on a tottering stage’. Instead, our Lord teaches us to pray that our earthly agendas might be in accord with our Father’s, with that health-giving request: Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
In this light Advent is a call to the most exciting adventure we could be called to. To conform not to the fashions and fads of the world but to the joys of promoting His Son and exemplifying His ways, brings freedom. Distinctiveness from the world is our core business so that those weary of the ‘tottering stage’ might find their feet in the security of His promises and purposes. The prayer for the 4th Sunday in Advent: O Lord raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; 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; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord, reminds us of God’s promised help.
The twin Advent events assure us that our life is worth living. They challenge our self-appointed sufficiency and comfort us in Jesus’s counter-cultural call to embrace decided discipleship. They hold out confidence to all who long for our Lord’s return. Far from making us complacent to the needs around us they steel our nerve, enlarge our vision and excite our passion to honour our Lord and to serve others for Him and like Him. The adventure beckons and is our joy, even in hardships. Spurgeon’s words of disciples are as exciting as they are realistic: ‘Ill to them is no ill, but only good in mysterious form. Losses enrich them, sickness is their medicine, reproach their honour and death their gain.’