Advent 3 - John the Baptist
Let us pray (in silence) [that the way for Christ's advent may be prepared]
you sent your servant John the Baptist
to prepare for the coming of your Son;
grant that those who proclaim your word
may so guide our feet into the way of peace,
that we may stand with confidence before him
when he comes in his glorious kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Judge and our Redeemer
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit
one God now and for ever.
NZPB p. 553
This collect is surprising in the way it distinguishes, divides "them" and "us". They "who proclaim your word" and we whose feet they guide.
Traditionally Ember Days, praying for those to be ordained and ordained ministry, occurred four times a year including the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after St Lucy's Feast Day (December 13). Effectively this is the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the Third Sunday in Advent. While the Ember Days have been moved (NZPB. p12) and ordinations regularly occur around the Feast of St Andrew, there are still recollections of that earlier tradition in this collect.
In dialogue with this collect might we not come to a healthier non-dualism? Without flattening all calls, all ministries, and treasuring differences, diversity - between the ministries of bishops, priests, deacons, laity - and even the huge varieties of calls within these orders, might we not be able to think us all as proclaiming God's word and having our feet guided? Might we not also, in a mission-focused church, where we find God as much outside the Christian community as within it, find even that dualism diminishing?
John the Baptist is given as an example in this collect, but others spring to mind in relation to our above dialogue with this collect. St Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times, and if you must - use words." An Advent equivalent is the more contemporary Charles the Foucauld (Feast Day 1 December - and recently beatified in the Roman Catholic Church): "I want to preach the gospel with my life".
For the Third Sunday in Advent, Bishop John Cosin for the 1662 BCP composed one of the few collects directly addressed to Christ:
O LORD Jesu 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.
This draws on the BCP readings for the Sunday: Rom 15:4ff and Luke 22:25ff, as well as Luke 1:17.
The church of England Liturgical Commission adapted the 1662 collect for the ASB 1980:
who sent your servant John the Baptist
to prepare your people for the coming of your Son:
inspire the ministers and stewards of your truth
to turn our disobedient hearts to the law of love:
that when he comes again in glory,
we may stand with confidence before him as our judge:
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
This was developed for Common Worship into:
O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The NZ liturgical commission further built on England's (ASB) "stand with confidence" by picking up this image from the Benedictus, the often daily repeated Song of Zechariah, clearly associated with John the Baptist, to "guide our feet into the way of peace".
The BCP (USA) drew from the Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India and transferred this thread to the Second Sunday of Advent. It is good to conclude with this version, as, just as in our dialogue above, it places Advent preparation not just on the ordained but on all of us:
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Great Advent O Antiphons 17 - 23 December