Monday, November 22, 2004

Thanksgiving Day & Advent Sunday: From Feasting to Fasting

Each day the Church of God is to adore, glorify, praise and thank the Lord on behalf of the whole of the created order.

The People of God have been given minds to think, hearts to feel and wills to act. They are made in the image and after the likeness of the Lord, the Creator, and thus are uniquely placed as members of both the old creation (Genesis 1) and by grace members of the new creation (Rev 21-22) to speak out on behalf of all creatures (except the angels who can speak for themselves) the thanksgiving of the whole creation to its Creator.

The Daily Office(s) of the Church of God has always been seen as not merely the prayer of the Church as Church, but the prayer of the Church as the priest of creation, representing the whole order.

On THANKSGIVING DAY the Church of God in the USA (even though “by schisms rent asunder and by heresies distressed”) is surely called to exercise this priestly ministry with special joy and divine efficacy as She thanks God not only for her own receipt of blessings but also for the varied harvests of provision of food and clothing, shelter and providences He provides for all men.

If there is any nation upon earth that reason to be thankful and to express that thanksgiving it is the United States of America.

Let THANKSGIVING DAY be a day of feasting. Let it also be what it was intended to be -- uttering & expressing thanksgiving and making intercession for all.

See The Book of Common Prayer (1928) for Collect & readings for Thanksgiving Day.

Immediately after THANKSGIVING there is the arrival of ADVENT, and thus the beginning of the Christian/Church Year.

If one activity of THANKSGIVING is FEASTING then one duty of ADVENT is fasting. ADVENT is obviously a liturgical preparation for the FESTIVAL OF THE INCARNATION of the Son of God, Christmas, but it is also a period of four weeks of making ready for THE RETURN OF THE EXALTED LORD JESUS to earth to raise the dead, judge the peoples and inaugurate the kingdom of God. It is thus a time “to watch and pray” and “to fast and pray”.

The intensity of the fasting is no so great as that of Lent, but it is nevertheless real, for without it “to watch and pray” is without a necessary ingredient.

In fact the best way to prepare to celebrate the First Advent – the taking of human nature and flesh by the eternal Word/Son from the B.V.M. – is to be prepared for the arrival of the Son of God in glory, the Second Advent; and this is why the ancient lectionaries of the Church weave the two themes together in the four weeks leading up to Christmas.

See The Book of Common Prayer (1928) for the Collects, Epistles and Gospels for the period of Advent.

ADVENT – the twin themes of coming in humility and coming in glory

The ADVENT Collect
to be used from the First Sunday in Advent daily until Christmas Eve

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour 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 liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

The Epistle: Romans 13.8-14 The Gospel: St. Matthew 21.1-13

This beautiful and moving prayer was written specifically for The Book of the Common Prayer (1549) by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Its structure, style and contents reveal just how perfectly he had mastered in English the grammatical structure of the traditional Latin Collects. It is a most appropriate prayer with which to begin the Christian Year for it is addressed to the Father, “Almighty God,” is centered upon the Lord Jesus Christ, “thy Son,” and looks for the direct help in daily living of the Spirit of the Father and the Son (“the Holy Ghost”). And it takes specific guidance and inspiration from the Epistle.

Here in remembrance before Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we remember both (i) the Advent/Coming of the Only-Begotten Son when he humbled himself, took to himself our human nature and was born from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, and (ii) the future Advent/Coming of the same Son as the Lord of lords and King of kings to earth at the end the age in great glory, to raise the dead and to judge the peoples, and to inaugurate the kingdom of God.

As baptized believers, living in a world darkened by evil and sin, but given Light by Jesus Christ who is the Light of the world, we ask for the personal help of the Father, through the Holy Ghost, in order to live not as children of darkness but rather as children of light. Indeed, we pray to be protected by “the armour of light” (see Romans 13:12). When Christ Jesus returns to earth in his Second Coming he will dispel all shadows and darkness, clear up all doubts, chase away all sorrows and cause the new dawn of the new day of the new age to appear. Then we shall cast off our sleeping apparel and put on the shining dress of the kingdom of God, as we are raised to the life immortal.

Prayed each day at Morning and Evening Prayer and whenever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated during the four weeks of Advent, this Collect is a real means of grace whereby we prepare rightly during the four weeks of Advent to celebrate the Incarnation at Christmas and the Epiphany a little later.

The Gospel for the week sets forth yet another Coming, the coming of the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. He enters the city as the Messiah, the Son of David, the Prophet of God, bringing salvation for Israel and the world, and he is welcomed as such by those who have previously heard his teaching and witnessed his exorcisms and miracles. Let us in Advent also prepare ourselves heartily to welcome the same Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, the Saviour of the world and the Judge of the peoples.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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