The Collect for The First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 211)

Marion Hatchett reminds us that between 1662 and 1979, this Collect was used daily during the season of Advent (see Note below for how this daily use continues after 1979).  New for the first English BCP of 1549, it combines the New Testament reading the first Sunday of Advent from the old Sarum (Salisbury) lectionary (Romans 13:11-14, now expanded by a few verses in our Year A) with the theme of the Aspiration in an Advent post-communion prayer from the 8th century Gelasian sacramentary from Gaul (“that they who rejoice at the advent of your only-begotten according to the flesh, may at the second advent, when he shall come in his majesty, receive the reward of eternal life”).  The combination of three “remarkable antitheses” (“cast away the works of darkness” in contrast with “put on the armor of light”, mortal life with life immortal, and great humility with glorious majesty) and the use of the temporal marker “now” (Hatchett, 166) sets the tone not only for this Collect, but also for the season of Advent. 

The Preamble, “Almighty God,” alerts us to listen for what mighty act we ask our all-powerful God to do in our lives. 

The Petition:“give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility,” is the mighty act we ask God to do in us.  This Petition also orients us in our current time within the story of humanity and asks God to empower us to do what we need to be doing in this time.  The Petition also sets up the first half of the second and third antitheses that Hatchett noted.

The Petition leads us to respond to the imperative in the second half of Romans 13:12 (“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”) with a cry for God’s grace to empower us to do what we can do only through God’s almighty power:  to “cast away the works of darkness”  and to “put on the armor of light.”  To cast away the works of darkness is to turn away from all that draws us from the love of God, from all that corrupts and destroys God’s creatures, and from all wickedness (Holy Baptism, BCP 302).  To put on the armor of light is, in Romans 13:14 language, to put on Christ:  through our baptism, we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6) so that as members of Christ’s body, the Church, we are alive in him.  Putting on the armor of light—putting on Christ, the Light—can be described as putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

The beginning of Romans 13:12, “the night is far gone, the day is near,” describes when we are in God’s unfolding plan of redemption.  The “now” that Hatchett called to our attention is the time between our first parents’ departure from the Garden of Eden and Christ’s return.  The phrase “the night is far gone, the day is near” can be explained by reading John 1:1-5 and Matthew 4:12-17 together:  Christ, the Light of the world, came to visit us in his first advent (coming). 

The Aspiration, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal,” contains the second halves of the remaining antitheses.    

Christ’s first coming was in great humility; he cloaked his divinity with human nature, not just in appearance, but fully participating in what it means to be human (Philippians 2:5-8).  His second visitation, in antithesis, will be in “glorious majesty” (See Matthew 25:31-46). 

Our own lives are described in an antithesis that parallels Christ’s two comings.  We are currently in the age of mortal life, as we await Christ’s second advent, the last day of this age in which we are raised to judgment (see the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, BCP 96, 120, 304, 358).  The death of our bodies is part of this age of mortal life.  When Christ returns in glory, we enter into the next stage of human life, life immortal (See The Collect for Proper 27, BCP 236).  Trusting in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of baptism and eucharist, we ask that we continue in the eternal life of fellowship with our Triune God (See The Collect for Proper 28).  Living into our baptism is another way of describing how God’s grace of casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light is experienced.

The Pleading:  “through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Ameninvites us to ask all three persons of the Trinity to be active in granting us grace to live into our baptism.

As we enter into this new Church year, what bits of darkness is God calling you to cast off?  Are there bits of darkness that are weighing us, as a parish, down that we need to cast off in order to live more fully into our baptism? 

What does putting on the armor of light mean to you?  How have you experienced us as a parish living into our baptism and being protected by the armor of light (Christ)?  That is, what parts of our common life as a parish has God protected and maybe even nurtured during this time of pandemic?

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 211)

Note:  In “An Order of Worship for the Evening” (BCP 109-114), which can be used as either a stand-alone prayer service at sunset or as the beginning of Evening Prayer, this Collect is used throughout Advent.  You can find an Advent specific version of this very short worship here.

© 2021 Donna Hawk-Reinhard, edited by Kate McCormick
The citations from Marion Hatchett are from his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, HarperOne, 1995
Quotations and page references to The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) are from the 1979 standard edition. 
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

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