The Third Sunday in Advent
O Lord Jesu 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 reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 The Gospel. St Matthew 11:2-10
This Collect was written in 1661 by Bishop Cosin of Durham and inserted into the 1662 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, to replace the Collect that had been in there since the first edition of 1549. This was very brief: “LORD, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our heart…”
The Address. In The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 only three Collects are addressed to the Incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Advent 3, St Stephen’s Day & Lent 1) while the rest are addressed to God, the Father. Here Jesus of Nazareth is thought of as the exalted Messiah, who has been given the name of “the Lord” by his Father. He reigns in heaven at the right hand of the Father as the Lord of lords and King of kings over the whole universe and also over the kingdom of the Father, wherein are all the redeemed and holy angels.
The Recollection. As we address the Lord Jesus Christ, we recall in his presence an aspect of that which he has done in salvation history in order for it to become the basis for our specific petition to him. And what we recall is that He as the Lord of history and salvation caused John the Baptist to prepare the way for himself, as the Messiah of Israel, and for his messianic ministry of bringing the message and power of the kingdom of God from heaven to earth. We are not here presuming to tell the Lord Jesus what He already knows perfectly; but, rather, we are remembering in his presence what we need to have in mind in this act of prayer.
The Petition. God’s people pray especially this Sunday and during the week for those who are ordained ministers, that they may be faithful heralds of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ even as John the Baptist was a faithful herald of the ministry of the Messiah at the First Coming. The description of a Christian minister (from the original Greek words of the NT) is in terms of a rower (huperetes) in the Church’s galley and as a steward (dispenser/housekeeper) in the household of God. As slaves/rowers in the Church’s galley, ministers receive orders and the timing of their rowing from the Captain, who is also their pilot on the voyage. As stewards or housekeepers, ministers also serve those who attend Christ’s Banquet with that which the Lord himself has provided (see the Epistle reading). If the ministers are faithful as rowers and stewards they will be God’s agents in bring people to repentance from sin and commitment to holiness and service of the Lord.
This prayer for clergy is particularly meaningful on this Sunday for Advent 3 is an ember week and Advent 4 is traditionally a time for ordinations.
The Aspiration. No-one knows when the Lord Jesus will return to earth in power and great glory and accompanied by the holy angels. Yet it is most necessary that the household of God, the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, be in such a state of faithfulness, godliness and preparedness, that they may be found an acceptable people at his Parousia/Appearing. They want to hear at the Judgement his words, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
The Termination. Since this Collect is addressed to the Second Person of the Holy, Blessed Trinity, the ending unites Him with the First and Third Persons in a brief doxology. There are three Persons, each of whom possesses in totality the One Godhead or Divinity/Deity and thus we say, “Three Persons and One God. A Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity.”
The Epistle is in part the inspiration for the Collect. While the people of God have certain legitimate expectations of the clergy, it is God the Father who will ultimately be the Judge of all.
The Gospel describes the entry – the Coming – of Jesus of Nazareth into the holy city as the Son of David, the Messiah and the Lord. Thus it helps us recall the other two Comings, the Incarnation as a baby and the Parousia at the end of the age as the Lord of all lords.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)