Gleanings from the Collects: 4 Advent

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, 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.”

This powerful collect has a long history. It is found in the Gelasian Sacramentary[1]of the 8thcentury, a volume that contained material from the 5thand 6thcentury. The collect is also found in the Gregorian Sacramentary of the 10thcentury and the Sarum Missal that was in use in Britain from the 11thcentury until the Reformation. 

Archbishop Cranmer added a couple of phrases in this English translation in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was the one remaining collect of three, found in earlier liturgies, that begin “Stir up….” These words are echoes of Psalm 80:2 “…stir up your power and come to save us!” 

It was appointed for the 4thSunday in Advent. A version of it was moved to 3 Advent in the 1979 BCP but is returned to its original place in the 2019 BCP.

This collect is appropriately placed just days before Christmas. We call on the LORD to “come among us” with His “bountiful grace and mercy” because we are “sorely hindered by our sins.” This cry of deliverance is a cry for a Savior, whose incarnation we will soon be celebrating. The timing for this prayer could not be more perfect. 

Additionally, calling on the Lord to “stir up your power” and “with great might come among us” is a plea for our ultimate salvation which will come at the Lord’s second advent. In His first Advent He comes in humility with grace and mercy but at His second He will come with power and great glory. Thus both themes of Advent are brought to mind though this prayer.

One commentator referred to this prayer as “dangerous.” As we take a step back and see what we are asking, we can see that he is not far wrong. We who are “sorely hindered by our sins” are asking the Holy One to stir up His power and come among us? Is that what we truly want? Wouldn’t we perish in the presence of His holiness? Yes, apart from Christ, but are not asking to be apart from Christ. We are asking just the opposite. We are asking for His “bountiful grace and mercy” to “speedily help and deliver us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

There is another lesson from this collect that comes from what it no longer says. The 1549 collect refers to “our synnes and wickedness” as does the 1662 BCP. In the confession at Holy Communion in the 1928 BCP “we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness.” And yet a reference to our “wickedness” has been removed in this version.  

It seems that modern worshippers are not comfortable facing the full extent of our fallenness. That is a shame because God tends not heal what we hide. To truly appreciate what our Savior has done for us we need to face the depth and reality of what our sin has done to us. It is then that we turn from ourselves to Jesus who comes to us in grace and mercy to “speedily help and deliver us.”

[1]Sacramentaries are books that contain the words in the liturgy that are spoken by the celebrant

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