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The Sacrament of Confession, Saint Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, MD

Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us: that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sorely hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

As we come to the threshold of the Lord’s nativity, the strains of the Advent Prose may be heard to echo in the collect given to us by the Church for this day. Indeed, that very text is found in the Introit at the Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and bring forth a Saviour. And we are put in mind also of another text: “O that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at thy presence” (Is. 64: 1).

Straightaway we notice a different tone. On the previous Sundays of Advent we have prayed that the Lord might do something to us or for us, that we might be prepared for his twofold coming: in the stillness of the manger and in great might at the end of time. Today this is overcome by a certain resignation; not so much in recognition of a failure to achieve any good, but the wearied realization that comes from knowing that it is only with God’s bountiful grace and mercy that we may hope to be delivered from the fate that might otherwise befall us.

This is a text that looks, of course, to the incarnation—the quiet miracle of God With Us in the Bethlehem stable. But it is also looks to the Lord’s second coming—perhaps more so, as it recalls the power and great might that will accompany that dreadful day, when “he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead.” Even though the bells of Christmas may already be heard, calling us to the celebration of the Lord’s first coming, the Church nudges us in these last moments of Advent to recall his second coming that, in the midst of the feast we may not forget its true message. The Christ who comes to us in great humility, the docile infant “asleep on the hay,” is also the one who comes to bring salvation; to offer the way out of the consequence of sin; to rescue us from ourselves, and our own deluded sense of self-importance. It is only by his merits that we might overcome the obstacles that sorely hinder us in running the race that is set before us, and thus reaching our native home.

How do we receive that for which we ask? The answer is simple: the bountiful grace and mercy of God. The means to receive in “the here and now” the power and great might that releases us from our sins and wickedness comes in the form of God’s bountiful grace and mercy. It comes to us in the grace that flows to us from Christ through the sacramental life of the Church, and in the mercy that is extended to us by that life. It comes to us when, taking upon ourselves the humility of the Christ child, we come freely before the judgement seat of God and, confessing our guilt “with hearty repentance and true faith”, receive the sentence that the Lord alone can pass. No anxiety should deter us from this task, for though we come to the “maker of all things, judge of all men,” we know that it is that gift of grace and mercy—and not the sentence we deserve—that will be handed down. We know that though he is our judge, “God the Father of mercies” cannot fail to offer us his forgiveness, and to deliver us from the bonds that keep us from him, and restore us to the life he so profoundly wishes us to share. Let us have hearts open to receive and accept such a generous invitation!

This post is part of a series on the Collects of Divine Worship, which may be viewed by clicking this link.

Please do not reproduce this text elsewhere without permission of the author.