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, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
There is little I would wish to add to this most excellent of prayers, which is about the immanence of Our Lord at the time of the imminence of the nativity celebrations. Save perhaps I should explain to a modern audience the use of the word 'satisfaction', which is defined in the 31st Article of the church in the following phrase: "The offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual..."
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.
Today's collect: BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
What this prayer has to do with the Advent season is a question to ponder. Indeed in my youth I pondered deeply why we sought to "read Mark, learn" when the evangelist Mark recounts nothing of the Christmas story.
It is a Protestant prayer and indicates the high place that the Church in England gives to Holy Scripture, regardless of being broad, high and low. I do not think it is fundamentalist, as I believe some American sects are termed, for it seeks support to "digest" the Scriptures, to mark and to learn, rather than to be directed in life by single verses that may be at odds with other verses; or indeed with human experience.
For this is an apposite collect when taken alongside today's Gospel reading, which looks forward t the Second Advent of Christ. Listen to the 16th century translation of this passage of the Gospel of Luke and you need not wonder why I have remained wedded to the Prayer Book: ...and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.
The passage states, quoting Our Lord, "This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled;" This is perplexing indeed. Indeed it is possible to speculate it refers not to the Second Advent but to the Ascension; for it is the Protestant way to digest the words of scripture, to understand they are not always easy to comprehend; and yet there is much that is so easy that a child can apprehend it better than an older person.