Friday, 26 November 2021
Dear Friends in Christ,
This Sunday is Advent Sunday – the beginning of a new liturgical year. So, let me begin by wishing you all a Very Happy New Year! Of course, the Church’s new year does not start with an excess of partying and elaborate firework displays. Instead, it begins with the penitential season of Advent. As with the more commonly understood and observed penitential season of Lent, Advent is a time of prayerful preparation and fasting. Advent is the season in which we are invited to get ready for the joy of Christ’s birth in a stable in Bethlehem.
The Last Sunday before Advent has come to be known as ‘Stir-up Sunday’. This is founded in the Book of Common Prayer collect for that day which begins with the words: Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people. In Victorian times this became a reminder for families to prepare their Christmas puddings, but it is so much more than that.
Every Sunday we pray the words of the Collect. This ‘collecting prayer’ is prayed in churches throughout the world and unites us with the universal Church of Christ. This is why we use a set list of readings, and why the Collect should never be omitted from our Sunday worship. The same Collect is then used at every service in the following week. The commonality of the Collect is an important part of our acknowledging that we are part of something so much bigger than our own small communities of faith. It is also a way in which Christians everywhere can support each other in prayer. The one thing a Collect is not, including that which is set for the last Sunday before Advent, is a reminder for some mundane domestic chore. Rather, it is a carefully constructed prayer that should be prayed and recalled in its entirety.
Last Sunday’s Collect said this:
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,
the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This Collect is certainly a reminder, but not for such trivial matters as stirring our Christmas puddings. It is a reminder that we should be engaged in good works. It is also a prayer of preparation which is reinforced in words from the Collect for Advent Sunday:
give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put upon us the armour of light.
Over the coming few weeks we will be constantly tempted and cajoled into forgetting the first season of the Church’s year. Like so many in the world around us, we will engage in premature festive celebrations and we will wish each other the Season’s Greetings. When we exchange those expressions of goodwill and good cheer it will, of course, be presumed that we are referring to the joy that is to come – the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. However, in our hearts and minds, we should really be offering those salutations along with the prayer that our families, friends and neighbours might have used the season of Advent wisely, in order that they might be ready to enjoy a truly Happy Christmas.
It is my prayer that you might all journey safely and carefully through the coming days. I pray that as the number of sleeps to Christmas reduce in number, you may have used the time for careful prayer and preparation. I pray that the ‘penitential’ season of Advent may have helped you start this new year in a way that has brought you closer to the baby who is yet to be born in that humble stable in the hilltop town of Bethlehem.
With every blessing to you all,