It isn’t just the holy Scriptures that are living and active, but truly every written text can be multivalent, carrying many different levels of meaning and open to various interpretations. This came to mind this morning as I read the Collect appointed for Advent 3 and my mind was immediately taken to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s mailman, Mr. McFeely who’s catch phrase was “Speedy Delivery.” In the prayer, sadly, the only “stir up” prayer we have left in our current Prayer Book, we that God’s abundant grace and mercy might “speedily help and deliver us.”
It is likely due to the fact that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theaters now and that Mr. Rogers has been in the media spotlight of late that I heard this prayer in a new and different way, but I think that’s how God works through written texts. As we read words, especially those that are familiar to us, with intentionality, God, through the Holy Spirit, is at work in our minds, causing synapses to fire, memories to be triggered, and new meaning to burst forth. So it was this morning as the words I’ve read hundreds to times “speedily help and deliver us” made me think of Mr. McFeely and took me down a rabbit hole of what we mean when we ask God for deliverance.
My first stop was my trusty copy of the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms. That’s right, when they’re not holding internationally famous dog shows, the folks at Westminster are publishing dictionaries for nerds. In it, the word deliverance is noted to have come to us from the Latin deliberare which means “to liberate.” The deliverance we ask for in this prayer and hope for in our faith in Christ is liberation – freedom from our enslavement to sin. It makes sense, then, that we would pray for such deliverance to come quickly. Anyone who has taken honest stock of their lives will realize that the consequences of sin are what make life hard. Broken relationships, dysfunctional systems, out of balance power dynamics, hurt, and sadness are just some of the things we pray would end “speedily” when we ask God for deliverance.
Next, I cracked open Marion Hatchett’s Commentary on the American Prayer Book, which expanded my understanding even further. Hatchett notes that this phrase “speedily help and deliver” is a 1662 expansion of the original prayer from c. 750 AD. By adding the word help, the revisers of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer made this an intentionally Advent-y prayer. “… this prayer sets forth better than the others the themes of the two advents: the first in which [Christ] came in great humility, and the second in which He comes in power; the first in which He came to save (read, “deliver”), the second in which He comes to help and relieve.
So, a random synapse fire helped me learn some new things today and will deepen my prayer life going forward. I hope it helps you too, dear reader.