Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
-- BCP, page 212

Sunday's texts
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126;
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28.

Some call this Sunday "Stir-up Sunday," given the unusual format and tone of this collect.

Except for the Trinitarian doxology at the end, the classical structure of the collect is missing here.

It doesn't start with the usual and customary O/ merciful/gracious/Almighty/God, you-are-thus-andsuch-and-because-of-that-quality-we-make-the-following-petition. That is how a collect is supposed to begin.

There's no time for that. The urgency of the moment requires getting straight to the point. You're in your car, you skid on the ice and you're headed toward a telephone pole. There's no time to start a prayer with: "O gracious God, you gave us knowledge and skill to build and operate machines: Strengthen therefore my ability to maneuver this vehicle that I may steer it away from the danger before me..."

Yeah. Right. Of course not! As a woman famously said some time ago in a video that went viral on the internet: "Ain't nobody got time for that!" About all we might manage is a plain cry: "Omygod!!"

Stir up your power! Come! Deliver us! This is a collect from the heart in the heat of the moment, not a literary composition in the cool of a calm evening.  We are sorely hindered by our sins. Right now. And headed for trouble. Our failures of soul-strength are real.

Why this focus on our sins in Advent-tide? Because Advent graces us with the inescapable awareness us that no day of our ephemeral life can be wasted with a business-as-usual attitude. The times are short; we are in a crisis. We cannot afford to get weighted down with unnecessary baggage.

I am remembering Bishop Ted Gulick, quoting a source I cannot now remember, who said: "Never waste a crisis!" Time to act decisively to advance the God's Dream of a reconciled humanity gathered in love and harmony around the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We have work to do. And the work of Advent begins with our own hearts. To make space for the Dream of God in our hearts, we need to discard all the encumbrances that get in the way of living into God's Dream. We are sorely hindered, like a backpacker carrying too much weight on the Appalachian Trail. The miles are long, the grade is steep. Let us only carry that which will sustain us on the journey: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God.

What is hindering you today? Is it the encumbrance of past failures? Is it not coming to terms with the reality of current failures? Of what are you having trouble letting go? Take the power of Stir-up Sunday to heart and pray fervently for the grace to be delivered from sin. Start with this collect. Or simply say, Help me, God!

Then, let us get off our knees and do something.

Under the Mercy,

Fr. Daniel+

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