Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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My Favorite Collect

A "collect" (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable) is a short form of Christian prayer.  It is written to be used in public worship, and has several traditional elements.  In the Anglican Church, we are given a collect for each Sunday of the Church year.  These are called the "Collect of the Day."

Since I was a child, my favorite has always been the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent.  (And yes, I was the kind of kid who had a favorite Collect).  It was written by the great Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer.  It first appeared in the 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.  Here it is:

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy 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 quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Advent is the first season of the Christian Year.  It is the time in which the Church prepares for both the First Coming of Christ (the Incarnation) and also for the Second Coming (the End of the Age).  Both Advents are written into this prayer.  'This mortal life in which Christ came to visit us in great humility" is his Incarnation.  "The last day, when he shall come again" is his second coming.

The poetry of the prayer is based in part on the New Testament reading that was appointed for this day back in 1549.  Romans 13:12 reads "The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light."

The prayer weaves together the reading, as well as the meaning of the season.  More importantly, it asks God for a two fold grace.  We pray to put away the works of darkness.  Without the power of the Holy Spirit, we have no hope of leaving our bad behavior behind.  We are naturally inclined toward darkness, toward hiding, toward dishonesty.  Advent is a time of repentance, of turning aside from darkness.

We pray to put on the armor of light.  Leaving aside darkness is crucial, but so is battling against evil.  Christ calls us to join the struggle against the powers of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12)  This requires the whole armor of God. 

Both the First and Second Coming are about light coming into the world.  So the prayer uses the imagery of light and darkness, as well as other poetic use of the English language like "this mortal life" vs "the life immortal."  It is a beautiful, poetic prayer.  It is a prayer that is centered in the Bible.  It is also a prayer that opens us up to God's grace during this holy season.  In the midst of all the shopping and driving and football and everything else that these last few days have been about, it is a door to the Reality of the season.  I commend it to your use.

Advent, History, PrayerThomas McKenzie