We move afresh into the beginning of the regular Church calendar year with the season of Advent, in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ as the promised Emmanuel (God-with-us), which will be realized in the celebration of his birth on a set day, December 25. Because Advent has been set as starting always on the 4th Sunday before Christmas, it is easy to figure when Advent begins each year. It also means that Advent has a variable number of days – Christmas Day can be on a Sunday, or Monday, or Tuesday, etc., but the Sunday before Christmas will always be the 4th Sunday of Advent. This is why REAL Advent calendars have to be created new each year, and, conversely, why the lazy way to do Advent calendars is always to start on December 1st, so they never have to change the number of days. You can tell, can’t you, my preference.
No matter the number of days in Advent, the Sunday collects will always be the same. They help us mark the time until the celebration of Christ’s birth.
At the same time, Advent brings forward the message of being prepared for the SECOND coming of Christ, too. The Advent message, then, is strong and clear: we are to be prepared for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, and then our judge.
Here is the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent:
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 for ever. Amen.
Almost as if to underscore an attitude of being highly expectant, even impatient, for Christ to come to us, the collect’s usual introductory address to God is cut short: “Almighty God” (please hurry!), and right into the petition. True to the dual themes, this collect puts it into terms of “this mortal life” and then “the life immortal.” We are recognizing, as well, both the humility necessary for God to be born unto us (that “great humility”), all the time knowing of His eternal capacity and authority (“his glorious majesty”) to judge us unto life or death. He is, after all, the One who paid for us to be set free.
With all that theology in mind, spoken of clearly in the Bible and brought to this prayer, the petition framing it all is that God will help us so that we don’t miss the reality of His coming to us in human form, and thus allow us to join him in being raised from the dead to a life eternal ourselves. It is a dark world out there, and in ourselves, so we need God’s grace to “cast away the works of darkness” so that we can “put on the armor of light” – that is, be believers – and see with right discernment while we are alive in this dark kingdom of the world. Do not ever be misled, or be naive: without God’s grace we will not be able to do it, and have proven so since Creation.
What an appropriate prayer, then, with new alertness to renew our “watching” for Jesus Christ, and to commit ourselves to relying upon His power to so we can see what He sees and know what He knows, and be what He desires and longs for us to be. His.