Saturday, December 13, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

O LORD Jesus Christ who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; 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, who livest and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

This collect from the Third Sunday in Advent thrilled me somewhat for a period in my youth but, I confess, with age and experience I find it poses some difficulty; indeed I would recite it with reservations.

There is much to treasure in this distillation of words, located at the confluence of the seasons. For it would not be heresy to suggest that the Church had expended the days available when it chose to contemplate in a single weekend the second Advent of Our Lord and the messenger of the gospels, the Baptist who announced the advent of the adult but human Christ.

I am uncertain now as to the meaning of the phrase turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; or indeed whether it is appropriate in this modern age. In my Evangelical early years I skimmed over it somewhat, allowing it as a somewhat latitudinarian or Catholic way of expressing the need for conversion. In the zeal of my youth, I entoned it with enthusiasm; with the experience of many years, I fear it might be perceived as authoritarian, indeed theocratic. For surely only God is just and the heart of man is inclined to be disobedient to his Ways; one does not need to be Evangelical nor to deny the necessity of the discipline of obedience to perceive that the coming of the Christ brought a message of mercy and grace.

I would therefore commend, with hesitation, an alternative, from the last century, that has been brought to my notice :

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth,
to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord.


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