The prayer printed below was composed in 1549 as the Collect for the first Sunday of the Christian Year, Advent I, and to be used also throughout Advent until Christmas Eve, and after the other Collects appointed for Advent II, III & IV. It captures wonderfully the two Advents or Comings of the Son of God to earth—the first in deep humility to assume our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the second in majestic glory to judge the living and the dead at the end of the age.
“Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put on 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 liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.”
When you read it aloud you realize just how memorable is this Prayer in its grand roll and rhythm, with the result that it is hard to say whether the ear or the mind finds most satisfaction in hearing it. Yet, at the same time, it is a Prayer that is also a short Creed, declaring major articles of the Christian Faith with clarity! So, bearing in mind its excellence, let us not fail to pray it through Advent daily, and in sincerity, godly reverence, fervency and devotion.
The prayer is addressed to the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and he is called the all-powerful, omnipotent God, the sovereign LORD of all things, visible and invisible. But it is not addressed directly to the holy and righteous Father for sinful beings need a Mediator to approach the holy LORD. Thus it arises to the Father “ [the Lord Jesus Christ]” who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Blessed Holy and Undivided Trinity, One God. Further, this Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the very One who became Incarnate by the Holy Spirit,; that is he “.”
We reverently address the Almighty God as those who live on the earth as mortal beings, that is as those who are born and who eventually die. This existence may be expressed as being “” for we live in space and time as mortal beings, who, in and of ourselves, cannot make ourselves immortal.
So we wisely pray for “that is, for the merciful and compassionate assistance of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit to do what is pleasing to God by mortal beings living in an evil age. And what is pleasing has two aspects to it—a casting away and a putting upon. We need help from God both to desire and determine as well as then “ (all those sinful and evil deeds and actions, small and great) which are contrary to the law of Christ; and we also need help to clothe ourselves with, “,” the armor provided by Christ for Christ’s warriors, with which we resist the arrows of devilish temptations and conquer sin in our lives to live in holiness, using the “sword of the Spirit.”
This petition within the Collect is taken straight from the Epistle appointed for Advent Sunday. St Paul wrote: “ And the theme of armor recalls what the same apostle told the church in Thessalonica: “Let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:7). Later in his apostolic career he was also to describe this armor in greater detail—see Ephesians 6.
As soldiers of Christ wearing his armor, we are to watch and pray as we live under his command. We do not know when he will return to earth from his exalted throne in heaven, that is “ Thus we ought to live each day in such a godly manner that if he comes we shall not be ashamed but rather be delighted to see him, so that “ with him in the courts of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Advent is that four-week part of the Christian Year when we not only prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Only Begotten Son of the Father on Christmas Day and in the twelve days following, but also, and very importantly, we look up to heaven for the same Lord Jesus Christ to return to earth “” and with all the holy angels accompanying him, to raise the dead, to judge the peoples and to inaugurate the fullness of the kingdom of God. Let us not forget that the best way to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, our Immanuel, is by watching and praying in the knowledge and light of his promised Second Advent.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon November 26 2007