Advent 4’s Peculiar Collect

As has been noted on this blog many times, I’m a big fan of many of the Collects in the Book of Common Prayer.  Each week of the year, along with several special occasions have a prayer that in collecting up the prayers of the faithful also, in many ways, sums of the theme of the day.  This week we will hear the Collect for Advent 4.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I encourage you to listen to the Collect Call, a podcast from my friends Brendan and Holli as they admirably tackle some to the quirkiness of this particular prayer.

What was interesting to me was the word “visitation,” which immediately made me think of the story for Advent 4, Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, but in doing some digging, I found that it was actually pointing much later in Luke’s Gospel.  Thanks to the late Marion Hatchett (Commentary, 167) for pointing me to Luke 19:44, as Jesus weeps over Jerusalem.

“They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” (NRSV)

That word, visitation, isn’t just the word for “showing up somewhere,” but instead it is episkope, from which our denomination gets its name, Episcopal.  According to the UBS Greek Dictionary, it can mean “visitation (of God’s presence among men); office, place of service; office of bishop.”  Strong’s, as always, digs deeper “1) investigation, inspection, visitation 1a) that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds character, of men, in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad 1b) oversight 1b1) overseership, office, charge, the office of an elder 1b2) the overseer or presiding officers of a Christian church”

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It is clear that in this prayer we aren’t inviting God over for tea.  Instead, we’re welcoming him as judge to come and show us the places, deep in the recesses of our hearts, that need to be cleared away to make room for Jesus to enter in with power and might. It is an invitation for God to re-enter our hearts each day, which offers us the challenge to daily choose to live for the kingdom of God rather than for our own selfish desires.

Perhaps in all the challenges of this Collect and the proximity to Christmas, this week is a chance to preach the Collect. Of course, that means not preaching the Magnificat, which is pretty spectacular all by itself.

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