The Collect for 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 212)

Marion Hatchett provides an overview of the various adaptations this early 8th-century Collect for Advent has undergone through the ages; while these changes are intriguing, he states that what we pray is close to what was prayed in the early 8th century.  In the Sarum missal (Salisbury use, late 11th century), this Collect was one of a series of four prayers used during the last four Sundays before Christmas that began with “Stir up.”  Hatchett notes that among these four prayers, “this prayer set forth better than the others the themes of the two advents:  the first in which He came in humility, and the second in which He comes in power; the first in which He came to save, the second in which He comes to help and relieve.”  The biblical foundation for this Collect is found in Psalm 80:2 and Hebrews 12:1 (Hatchett, 166-7). 

The address of God, “O Lord,” is not in the usual Preamble position.  As is our practice in these meditations when the Preamble contains “O Lord,” we begin by pondering which dimension of God’s relationship with us is in view:  God’s sovereignty or God’s name (See the meditations on The Collect for Proper 6 and The Collect for Proper 7 for more on these two uses). 

The Acknowledgement, “because we are sorely hindered by our sins,” provides the theological statement of why we need this prayer to be answered:  our desires and plans to live according to God’s ways are restricted through our sins.  Sin, “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation” (Catechism:  Sin and Redemption, BCP, 484), is simultaneously individual, corporate, and societal.  In one of the prayers for Compline, we pray that “we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil” (BCP 134). 

Part of remembering our interconnectedness is recognizing that it is not just our personal sins that hinder us.  When the church—at the parish, diocesan, provincial, national, or world-wide levels—makes decisions to engage in activities that distort the matrix of relationships that form our common life, we are each affected, even if we are not actively participating in these activities.  Likewise, as citizens of the Earth, we are hindered by decisions that businesses, governments, and other social structures make when these decisions result in activities or policies that do not align with God’s will for peace and unity between God and every creature.  This hindrance can be described as “every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1).  This hindrance by sin distracts us from living fully into the Baptismal Covenant (BCP 304-5).

The Petition is spread out in this Collect rather than being all in one place.  When it is read as a single unit, the Petition ,“Stir up your power … and with great might come among us; and … let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us”, is an expansion of Psalm 80:2.

A second Acknowledgement is implied in the Petition:  God’s grace and mercy are bountiful.  Through this grace-filled mercy, God directs power and might for our help and deliverance.  This help comes to us in a relational way, through the Son of God becoming human and living among us to save us in his first coming, through the indwelling Holy Spirit who incorporates us into the Church through our baptism and sanctifies us through the Eucharist in this time between Christ’s first and second comings, and eventually through the second coming of Christ.

The Pleading, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen,” connects our prayer for being unhindered by sins to the ultimate goal of our freedom, which is for our Triune God to be honored and glorified in and through us.

How does hindrance from sin, either your own or the sin of others, affect your daily life?  How have you experienced God delivering you from a hindrance due to sin?  How have we, as a parish, experienced being delivered from a hindrance of sin?  In our telling of these mighty acts of deliverance, how is God’s glory and honor revealed?  

In what ways do we, as a parish, need to experience God’s bountiful grace and mercy to help and deliver us?  How will God’s glory and honor be served by God’s deliverance of us from this hinderance?

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.

© 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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