Mother Emily and I agree. We both consider the Collect, or gathering prayer, for the Fourth Sunday of Advent to be one of our favorite prayers of the Christian year. I love all the Advent Collects as my respect for their wisdom has evolved over many years. This week’s Collect:
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Often this pivotal final week of Advent is cut short by Christmas Eve falling close to, or sometimes actually on, the Sunday of Fourth Advent. I think this an unintended and unwelcome calendar quirk of our Revised Common Lectionary, the schedule we Episcopalians use to align with many other denominations to hear scripture together as the Christian year unfolds. How sad, and it makes me bring this Collect with me far past Advent. Why?
This is the only Advent Collect to not directly reference sin. After we cast away darkness, forsake our sins, are reminded we are sorely hindered by sin, we beg God to work a divine work in us. Like Jesus saying to the leper, Be cleansed, we ask God rather curtly to do something I for one cannot do for myself. I can confess my sins, run from them, or be haunted by them, but I believe the essence of the Good News is that I cannot through sheer will cleanse my own soul. Like Paul, my most candid prayer refrain is often wretch that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death! My entire inner being is engulfed in a war I cannot negotiate nor ameliorate, but only confess. But God can cleanse, the audacious claim of John the Baptizer’s enactment of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins! We beg God this week for a purified conscience, and in the most intimate way, by His holy and gracious presence in our lives on a daily basis. Seriously! God will do all the cleaning, honestly?! All I have to do is open the door when God knocks?! And to be clear, this is not Jesus knocking, but the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth! The One who walked in the Garden? Negotiated with Abraham, spoke to Moses, parted the waters, held the sun still, reamed out Job (directly) and David and Solomon (indirectly)?! Our Heavenly Father wants to help purify my soul to meet Jesus as our Lord arrives this Christmas and often at an unexpected hour?! The Prayer Book answer, dear readers, to my rhetorical rant just above is….absolutely yes!
My home often resembles the state of my spiritual life, as it does this evening. It ain’t ever where I wish it aspirationally to be! Some in our fair valley allow strangers to walk through their mansions to raise money for worthy charities; I would drop serious coin to keep everyone out of mine! The best news of Advent, and indeed of the entire Gospel, is somewhere in there, in my shambolic conscience (oh yes it is a real word, and a keeper at that!) there is a mansion God is preparing for Jesus to inhabit. We don’t have to construct it. We just need to open the door. Knock knock!
- How’s that spiritual yard? Any trimming, pruning, mowing (kinda painful to take a soul cut like that sometimes), weeding or fertilizing that we should be asking God to accomplish?
- The Living Room of our mansions, the place we gather with those we love in safety, peace and harmony….is it ready for our Christmas guest?
- The Kitchen and Dining Room, the place inside of us from which we enjoy spiritual nourishment and warm fellowship?
- The Master Bedroom, the place in which we experience…awww, you get the picture dear readers! I try to take a moment this week every year to conduct a sweeping, brutally honest and uncomfortably vulnerable spiritual tour of my mansion. During that prayer I confess the true nature of my mansion, using this collect as a guide, and try to consciously invite God into each nook and cranny. Can we all hear the strong voice of Jesus speaking as we do, “I do wish to heal you. Be clean!”