This year our church is reading through the Book of Common Prayer's Advent readings. The Book of Common Prayer is a literary tradition spanning back to the time of the Reformation. It is a compilation of hymns, readings, and prayers which have helpfully drawn God's people into prayerful reflection. Our church, while not an Anglican church (for some very important reasons) have found these readings on Advent to be particularly helpful.
So as part of the Advent season, we are reflecting on the various Advent collects, or prayers, on this blog. You can visit the first Advent Prayer here. The second Advent prayer says this:
Like last week's reading, this one is made up of three parts. The three parts reflect on the coming of God to his people. They present us with the prophets who made clear the way of the Lord, they present us with the last Word of God, who has revealed to us the wonderful mystery of the Trinity.
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation
This first prayer fixes our minds on the God of the prophets. Those angsty, gnarly, cranky, and, at times, hangry, men. They were haggard and bent over. They came wearing only shreds of clothing. They told us of the coming judgment. They scowled. They grunted. They waved their arms in the air. At times they went to radical extremes to tell us the Day of the Lord was on its way. Sometimes, it was encouraging. Most of the time we ignored it.
Masters of the literary form, they wrote long treatises and preached long sermons. They ranted. They built exacting argument upon exacting argument. They delivered their message with forcefulness. We put our thumbs in our ears. We didn't want to hear. They took our thumbs out and shouted. "You have to hear!" they said, "God is coming!"
The most remarkable thing about this prayer is the simple ascription to a God who sends envoys such as these. He is called, "merciful." It is merciful for God to send to us those who will prepare a way for salvation. It is merciful that they came to us, in the world but not of it. We are able to see past all the distractions of the world, the world with all its trinkets and its toys, its wit and wisdom, its novelties and knowledge. In these simpletons a complex God makes himself known. God's mercy to us comes because he did not send them as foreign dignitaries in all the trappings of respect and reputation. He sent them to us, as harbingers of another world, wearing camels' hair for belts and eating locusts dipped in honey.
Hebrews says this of those hallowed heroes, "What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel, and the prophets-who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated, of whom the world was not worthy-wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of earth." (11:32-38)
Truly, they are not of this world. This strange fact is, in fact, their credibility. It is merciful of God to send us messengers as such as these, and it is they who make clear the path of the Lord.
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer
The second section of this prayer is a request to the Lord. It asks for grace, the precious grace, that the scales on our eyes might be washed away, that the plugs in our ears might be removed, that the cast over our hearts might be cut away. It asks for the eyes to see and ears to hear the words of the Lord. Such strange messengers speak a strange language that is unnatural and revolting to the unredeemed ear. Only by the grace of God can we hear God's words. It is for the grace of repentance, that sweet gift, sweeter than any honey, that we speak.
Give us grace to turn from our sins. Give us grace to see our sins for what they are, to behold them in all their ghastliness, and their ugliness. Help us to "uncultivate" our tastes to the pleasures of our world. Of course, that is only the first half of repentance. For just as we have cultivated a taste for sin which must be uncultivated, so we must acquire a taste for the things of God. To ask for the grace of repentance is not only to ask that God would help us turn away from our sins, but also to ask that God would help us to turn to God. It is to ask God for the gift of conciliation, not just contrition.
Without such gifts, we will never hear the Word. Hebrews tells us, "Long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." (Heb 1:1-2) In Christ, God got his last Word in. Christ is the last thing we need to know about God. Every prophet before him spoke of the one who was to come. Every prophet after him spoke of the one who already has come. Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. The first and final, clearest and most mysterious, Word of God.
Such a Word cannot be heard by fleshly ears or stoney hearts. We cannot hear about Christ so long as we are enraptured with sin. Christmastime, this prayer teaches us, is a time to reckon with this Word about God. This, the last Word of God, spoken of for long before, has finally come. Have we prepared Him room? Have we attended our hearts to Him? Have we hushed our whispering in his presence? Christmastime is a time for repentance. And this is only grasped by grace.
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
Just as last week, we are caught up into the heavenly throne room. Christmas repentance transposes us before the Almighty Lamb of God, standing as though he had been slain, amidst the sea of glass and storm, and in the presence of the Great Throne. Christmas Repentance brings us into the midst of this, the most transcendent of mysteries, the most lucid of dreams, the most seen unseen. It is nothing less than the presence of the Trinity. Here, adopted through the Son, filled by the Spirit, and loved by the Father, the elect of God gather with one voice to praise Him from before all time and now and forever. Christmas time realigns us, attunes us, shapes us, molds us, exposes us, fills us, strips us, clothes us, takes away and gives back, questions and answers. Christmastime is the coming of the Son of God, the very God of very God and very light of very light. This is not a sight for the amateur sightseer. One must cultivate and acquire this taste. We must train our eyes to see this vision.
This is what Advent prayers are for.
Southern Heights Christian Church
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