O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This collect is taken directly from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer for the 3rdSunday in Advent and is attributed to Bishop John Cosin. An adaptation of it was moved to the 2ndSunday in Advent in the 1979 BCP but the 2019 BCP has returned it to its original place.
The Church of South India changed the collect to read “Grant that we….” instead of “Grant that the minsters and stewards of your mysteries…” By doing so they emphasized that all of us are called to do the Lord’s work. While that is true, by making this change they have sacrificed and important emphasis of this week. December 16, 18 and 19 are Ember Days. These are days of prayer and fasting as the seasons change and also traditionally the time for ordinands to prepare themselves for holy orders.
This specific focus on clergy is highlighted by the New Testament lesson chosen for Sunday. The 1662 lectionary appoints 1 Corinthians 4 that addresses “the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” The 2019 lectionary appoints 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 that begins “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”
Several gleanings can be made from this collect. First, note that the Lord Jesus is being addressed directly in this prayer. In this way we are obeying His admonition to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to raise up workers for the harvest (Mt. 9:38).
Second, praying for our spiritual leaders helps us as St. Paul commends, “To esteem them very highly in love.” If you are not regularly praying for our clergy this season would be a good time to make it part of your disciplines.
Third this collect makes a very interesting turn in its focus. We are to pray for our leaders to make ready the way of the Lord “by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just.” So it sounds like we are praying for our leaders to impact the proverbial “them.” But then the next line is “that at your second coming to judge the world, wemay be found a people acceptable in your sight.” Thus the disobedient that we are praying for is ourselves. I certainly don’t have to give that much thought before I can agree and say ‘mea culpa.”
Lastly it should be noted that this prayer for the turning of our hearts falls on Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means “rejoice.” The color for the day is rose and there is a sense of joyful anticipation in air.
Some may think that a call to repentance is contradictory to a pronouncement of joy, but that is not the case because the one leads to the other. Through repentance our hearts are turned and they are turned from death to life, from brokenness to wholeness, from mourning to joy. The Psalmist tells us “weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). We are to be a people who pass through Good Friday but live in Easter. Living as an Easter people is the best way to prepare for His coming.