Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

According to Hatchett, this collect is based on that for the Third Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India, although it expresses ideas similar to those for the Third Sunday in Advent from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

What I like about it is that it begins by invoking “merciful God” and it puts a positive spin the prophets preaching repentance. But all of the action is in God; first, with God’s mercy and God sending prophets. But it continues in the same vein, with a petition for God’s grace that we might hear the message of the prophets, amend our lives, and greet Christ’s coming with joy.

Collect for the first Sunday of Advent

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 lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The prayer book collects are a wonderful spur to reflection. Having said them over the years, they strike me anew each time with power. That is especially true of the collects for the Sundays in Advent. I mentioned in my sermon the contrast between the candles we light on the Advent Wreath and the growing darkness of the season. This collect draws on that imagery, too. It’s been running through my head all week.

According to Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book, this collect was composed for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. The juxtaposition of dark and light, as well as the emphasis on the contrast between now “in the time of this mortal life” and “the last day” remind us of the poles of our existence. They remind us, too, of the sharply different times in which we live, this present time, and God’s time, or eternity.

The beginning of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year, which takes us each year from the expectation of the birth of Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, to the birth of the Church at Pentecost. That annual remembering of the story with its incessant yearning for us to return to those events, to participate in them is challenged by another powerful force in the Christian message–the urge to look forward to the second coming. Those are two very different attitudes towards time, and occasionally they leave Christians feeling schizophrenic. Where should our real focus be? On the past, or the future?

Perhaps our focus should be somewhere else entirely. God exists outside of time and created time in the process of creating all things.