The collect for Advent 3

The Third Sunday in Advent

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

 The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5           The Gospel:  St. Matthew 11:2-10

Historical Note

Whereas in the first two Collects of Advent we have benefited from Archbishop Cranmer’s exceptional genius, in today’s Collect we meet the polished hand of a different (and lesser) genius – Bishop Cosin of Durham who wrote it for the 1662 revision of the prayerbook.  Prior to this, the Collect was very brief and read simply: Lord, we beseech thee, give ear to our prayers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten the darkness of our heart by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Commentary on the Collect

This collect continues the theme of the previous two collects (preparation for Christ’s return, in light of his Nativity), while also introducing a new idea, namely the calling of God’s minister’s to be active in the preparation of the people for Jesus’ second advent.

In the first collect of Advent, we confessed our need to be made ready for Christ’s return (give us grace that we may cast off . . . and put on . . . (so that) when he shall come again . . . we may rise to the life immortal).  Last week we learned of one means of godly preparation – rightly receiving and using the Holy Scriptures.  This week we are tutored to consider a second means of preparation, namely the right exercise of the Christian ministry: send thy messengers to prepare thy way before thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of only three instances in the Collects of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in which we address our prayer to the Lord Jesus rather than to God the Father (the other two being St. Stephen’s Day and The First Sunday in Lent).  Let us consider the significance of addressing Jesus as the Lord.  Though shortly we shall celebrate his Nativity (a theme of which is his humility, see Philippians 2), today we address our prayer to the exalted Messiah, he to whom the Father has given the name “the Lord.” 

This one to whom we pray is no longer the fragile babe in the manger; he is the Lord of lords and King of kings, reigning in heaven at the right hand of the Father.  He is the Head of the Church whose authority encompasses the entire universe and the Kingdom of God, wherein are found the holy angels and the great company of the redeemed of mankind.

Who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee.  As we address the Lord Jesus Christ, we recall in his presence that he, as the Lord of history and salvation, called St. John the Baptist to prepare his way among the people Israel.  The purpose of this recollection is not to presumptuously seek to inform the Lord Jesus about St. John’s ministry.  Our purpose is to remember in his presence that which we need to have in mind so as to be prepared for the latter part of the Collect, where we shall pray for those in the present day who, in ways analogous to John, are called to serve the Lord Jesus and advance God’s kingdom. 

Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries.  God’s people pray especially this Sunday and during the week for those who are ordained ministers, that they may be faithful heralds of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ even as John the Baptist was a faithful herald of the ministry of the Messiah at his first coming. 

This Petition’s wording is taken from today’s Epistle and it is worth noting that in the original Greek of the New Testament the word which is translated here as minister is not the usual word that we typically find for minister (diakonos; dia,konoj), it is “hupēretēs” (u`phre,thj) a literal translation of which is “under-rower” and it means “one who serves a master or a superior.”  In the New Testament, the Apostles are called the hupēretēs of Christ – that is, they are Christ’s servants (Acts 26:16; 1 Corinthians 4:1).  Whereas diakonos emphasizes the relationship of the minister to those in his charge (like a shepherd caring for his flock), the emphasis of hupēretēs is upon the relationship of the minister to his Lord – he is a minister of Christ; he serves Christ. 

Prayers for the clergy are especially appropriate today and throughout the week, seeing that this Sunday begins an Ember Week (of which there are three throughout the course of the year) – in preparation for The Fourth Sunday in Advent, traditionally a time in which laborers are sent out into the Lord’s vineyard through ordination.

Just as God prepares his people for his glorious return by means of the Holy Scriptures, so too he wills to use the ministers and stewards of his holy mysteries to ready his people for his return.  And so, just as at each celebration of Holy Communion we pray for God to give grace to all “Bishops and other Ministers, that they may, both by their life and doctrine, set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly administer thy holy Sacraments,” so now we pray for these same men – that they might faithfully prepare the way of the Lord amongst his people for his second advent, even as John the Baptizer sought to prepare the Jewish people for the Messiah’s first advent. 

And we pray this, knowing that despite John’s heroic witness, the Israelites were not prepared to receive the Messiah as God desired.  We must pray that in our own day this work of preparation for the Messiah’s second advent will be both faithfully executed and faithfully received.

That at thy second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.  We now confess our faith in the surety of God’s Word regarding that which is yet to come.  In the midst of the many distractions that attend our daily lives, how needful it is have our sometimes shortsighted perspectives challenged by God’s promises about the future.  In light of Christ’s promised return, the Church is ever called to watch and pray, and at no time more specifically than in advent.

We are given the sobering reminder that at his second advent, the Lord Jesus will judge the living and the dead, thereby bringing to a glorious conclusion the purposes of God with mankind in space and time.  As Jesus warned in the parable of the wise manager: “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more”  (Luke 12:48).

In general, this collect reminds us that in Advent – while we prepare liturgically for the celebration of Christ’s birth – we must also prepare, in heart and mind, for his return.

Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.  Since this Collect is addressed to the second person of the holy, blessed Trinity, the ending unites him with the first and third persons in a brief doxology.  There are three persons, each of whom possesses in totality the one Godhead or divinity/deity and thus we say, “Three Persons and one God. A unity in Trinity and a Trinity in unity.”

Peter Toon and Jason Patterson


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