Starting yesterday, this week’s Collect is the great Advent Collect:
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 forever. Amen.
This majestic prayer is, in my opinion, one of the best Collects in our tradition. In the classical Prayer Book tradition, this Collect was also appointed to be prayed following the Collect of the Day through the entire season of Advent, making it not only the Collect of the Day, and for the week, but for the season itself. Just looking at it, you can probably see why – it captures the themes of the season so well, it’s hard to improve upon it.
But let’s take a look at this Collect more closely. Like most collects, this prayer has multiple Scripture references built into it, much of which is not necessarily linked to the official readings of the First Sunday in Advent.
Reference #1: Romans 13:12
“Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light“
This phrase is straight-up quoted in the Collect; there is nothing subtle about this reference. It is bolstered further by the fact that Romans 13:8-14 is the traditional Epistle lesson for the first Sunday, though in the modern lectionaries it’s there only on Year A. (Right now, Year C has just begun, so next year we’ll all be hearing this match-up at last.)
This is the primary exhortation of the season. Our active preparation for Christ’s arrival is one of cleansing: we put away our evil deeds and pursue the illumination of the light of Christ.
Reference #2: 2 Timothy 4:1
“…Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead,
and by his appearing and his kingdom…“
This is only a brief quote. The Collect notes Christ’s role of Judge at the end of the age upon his return. This is the primary backdrop and context for the exhortation we just received; only in light of Christ’s return and right to judge do we endeavor to be faithful citizens of his kingdom.
Reference #3: Philippians 2:5-8
“…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself…“
These verses form one of the clearest statements in Scripture that back up this Collect’s claim that Christ formerly “came to visit us in great humility”. This reference does double duty. Primarily it adds to the context of this life, in which we receive the exhortation to cease from evil and do good, preparing for the return of Christ. But by specifically referencing the first, humble, advent of Christ, it gives a nod to the liturgical anticipation of Christmas that the Advent season also provides.
It may be prudent for us to note that the first purpose of Advent is actually to prepare us for the second advent of Christ. The theme of “getting ready for Christmas” is secondary; the “basic” level that helps us grasp what is primary.
Reference #4: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
“And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.“
The return of Christ was already referenced in 2 Timothy; what these verses add is the further point that we will “rise to the life immortal” on that Day. It is interesting to note that the very words of the Collect “rise to the life immortal” point us in an interpretive direction that rule out the popular teaching of “the rapture”, which uses these verses as a proof-text for the idea that God’s people will literally float away into heaven someday. Instead, our gathering up into the air will be the beginning of our “life immortal” – the resurrection life on earth, inaugurated by Christ’s return to judge. The populist rapture teaching separates the resurrection of God’s people from the return of Christ as Judge by 7 years or more… a belief rendered incoherent by this Collect, not to mention the united witness of the Bible.
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