Materials for Worship on the Second Sunday of Advent

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy 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 quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen. (The Scottish Prayer Book)

Peter writes: This ancient prayer, the Collect for the first Sunday in Advent, is one of the great treasures of the Church. Read it out loud to yourself and listen to the way the language flows. Then notice the series of contrasts: “the works of darkness – the armour of light; now, in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son came to visit us in great humility – in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty; the quick and the dead.”

The word visit has changed its meaning. Here it does not mean dropping in for a cup of tea but to inspect, to inquire about. Advent is a time to cast light in the dark corners of our mind, our conscience and to reflect on the fact that the world is a dark place. We are reminded that we shall be called to account. But we can have confidence that the judge is merciful and that we shall rise to life immortal. All the great themes of Advent are gathered (“collected”) in this wonderful prayer.

I am also a great fan of our 1982 Liturgy, especially the Eucharistic Prayer for Advent. In fact, In fact I spent the past two Advent seasons in churches where they use the English liturgy but I smuggled in (shh!) the Scottish prayer. Just as the collect looks back to Jesus’ presence with us in great humility as well as forward to the time when he shall come again in his glorious majesty, so, with its references to a creation, a kingdom given, yet still to come, the prayer speaks of past and future collapsed into a single present, into God’s timelessness. Indeed every time we celebrate the Eucharist our divisions of time into past, present and future are similarly transcended: we present our offering now and we look forward to the healing of a broken creation at the end of time, manifested to us in the present by the transformation of bread broken and wine poured out.

A third reason for loving the Advent season is the music. At this time of the year we sing some of the best hymns in the book, for instance Charles Wesley’s great Lo, he comes with clouds descending and the mediaeval O come, o come Emmanuel, with its haunting melody that speaks of waiting and longing together with a note of triumphant expectation. A more recent hymn is People, look East whose rather jaunty melody captures the atmosphere of growing excitement and the words remind us that Advent is a time of preparation: “Make your house [your mind, your soul] fair as you are able”. Best of all, although it is probably better suited to a choir than for congregational singing, is Bach’s great cantata Wachet auf! (Wake, o wake!). Here, “wake” refers to the need to be alert to the sign’s of Jesus’ presence in our daily lives as well as to the life to come at the end of time. As if that were not enough, since reading through today’s first lesson, O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion and other pieces of Handel’s Messiah have been going through my head.

No wonder, then, Advent is my favourite among the Church’s seasons. It is just a pity that it is so short and gets drowned out by carols. Enjoy the feast of Advent while you can!

For prayer and reflection
Read through the Advent collect and the Eucharistic Prayer II. (You will find it on the SEC website; follow the links Who we are: Publications: Liturgies: 1982 Scottish Liturgy).
Read them slowly and meditatively.
Ask yourself:
– where are there works of darkness in my life, in the world today? Pray for help, protection and guidance.
– where do you see signs of Christ’s transforming presence in my life or in the world in the form of words and deeds? Give thanks for them, pray for the people and organisations involved.
– in spite of, or perhaps because of, all that is going on, what does it mean to look forward with hope?