Advent Evening Prayer Reflection – December 8, 2023

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.Amen.

Tonight we continue our reflections on the Collect prayers of the season of Advent.  As a reminder these prayers are meant to sum up or collect all of our prayers around a particular theme and are assigned to the particular Sunday and weeks of the year.  They are, as Fr. David reminded us last week, a beautiful treasure of our Church – both in prose as well as in theology.                         

Within Christianity and particularly within Anglicanism there is a popular maxim – lex orandi, lex credendi. This means that the law of prayer is the law of belief.  So the words we pray in the Eucharist, in the Offices – in any of the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer – these words of prayer express our faith – our beliefs.  And so when we hear these collect prayers at Communion on Sunday and during the week at Evening Prayer – we perhaps do not often notice that these beautiful prayers are also expressing something very important about what we believe.  This is a large part of why your clergy wanted to have this particular series of reflections during this Advent season.                                               

So what does this prayer for the Second Sunday and week of Advent say to us about our belief? Plenty! The first two words alone could have a series of sermons based on them.  Merciful God.  Here we are saying something important about the very nature of God.  This is not an aspirational thought – like we hope God is merciful.  This is a statement of faith.  We know this through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Anglican Christians have prayed down through the centuries in the Prayer of Humble Access – thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.  God loves us and wishes us to remember this.  God gave his only Son to us – to the death of the Cross – out of love for each of us.  Let me repeat that – out of love for each of us – not just for humanity as a whole – but for you and I personally and for every other person who lives or has lived or will live.  God cares about us.  God wants to lavish mercy upon us when we turn to God.                                                       

And God has down through the centuries used tools to remind us of this.  Among these have been the prophets of the Scriptures, mentioned in this Collect prayer, who have called us to return to God.  This has always been the primary goal of prophets – to point out areas of injustice of disloyalty to God’s ways and to call us back.  While the times they lived in were different from ours and even different from one another and the specific themes of their preaching was different – they all had the same goal – to call God’s people back to God’s ways.  In doing so – they call us to turn our lives around – to reorient our lives away from our own personal will and desires to following the path that God has put before us.                                                                                                 

But beyond sending voices in the wilderness calling out to us to repent, God also gives us grace to help us have the strength to answer this call. God gives us grace that we may heed their warnings and forsake our sins as we say in this prayer.  God’s grace helps us to listen to the prophets but also to turn away from our sinful ways.  To practice in our lives the three renunciations we made or were made for us in Holy Baptism – those of Satan, the evil powers of this world, and all sinful desires.   Of course – these are not something we can do once and then be through with.  We are called to live into these renunciations each and every day.  We must, in a sense, make a decision – each day – each hour – each minute even to say yes to God and no to the power of evil, the Devil, and sin.                                                                                             

It is important to notice the why of this particular prayer.  It is so that we may greet with joy the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ – our Redeemer.  For us as faithful Christian folk – the return of the Lord is not something to be feared.  Yes, we are to forsake our sin and keep turning and returning to the Lord – but we do this so that we may meet him – our merciful Savior with joy at that last day when he comes in judgement.  And while we may feel some sense of purgation in knowing our sinful nature before the one who is all goodness and all love, we must not fear the one who gave his life that we might live forever with him.  Our Lord returns not only to judge the living and the dead,  but also to transform heaven and earth into a new creation, to begin the great wedding feast of the Lamb where we will join with all of creation in praise around God’s throne and sin and death will be no more.             As we move through these days of Advent, may we, with God’s grace grow in our love of God and of our siblings in Christ.  May we turn away from the prompting of our own wills tainted by sin and turn toward the way the God calls us to – the way our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ walked– the way of humility, service, sacrifice, and love so that we may truly greet him with joy at the last day.  Amen. 

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