Gleanings from the Collects: 2 Christmas

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This beautiful collect first appeared in the American Book of Common Prayer in the 1979 edition. However it is an ancient collect that is taken from the Leonine Sacramentary[1]from among the prayers for Christmas. Along with the Roman Catholic Church today, the Anglican Church in North America has appointed this collect for the 2ndSunday after Christmas.

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded a popular song called “Woodstock” that contained the lyrics, “We are stardust. We are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” It’s a good song but it is not good theology as this collect points out. 

In the garden we were “wonderfully created” but in Christ the dignity of our human nature is “yet more wonderfully restored.” Thus we are not going back to the garden, rather we are going forward to the heavenly Jerusalem[2]. Because of Jesus mankind will go from being keepers of a garden to become a royal priesthood.[3]In the garden mankind knew God as Creator but in Christ we know Him as Father. The epistle appointed for this day proclaims this truth in an astonishing way. “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself according to the kind intention of His will.”[4]

As unfathomable as it may seem, our adoption through Jesus Christ makes us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.”[5]While we cannot even imagine all that God has in store for us, we do know that we have a future that far surpasses anything that a return to the garden could offer. Our destiny is not to go backwards but rather to progress from glory to glory.[6]

Like this collect, Leo the Great captured what Christ has done for us through His incarnation. “The Son of God became the Son of Man that the sons of men might become the sons of God.”

[1]The Leonine Sacramentary is a book of prayers attributed to Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome who died 461. It is the oldest surviving liturgical book. 

[2]Hebrews 12:18-24

[3]I Peter 2:9

[4]Ephesians 1:4,5

[5]Romans 8:17

[6]2 Corinthians 3:18

Gleanings from the Collects

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

This beautiful collect was placed for the Second Sunday of Advent in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It was moved to Proper 28 in the 1979 American BCP, which is two Sundays before Advent. Most recently it was returned to its original calendar placement in the 2019 ACNA Prayer Book. 

In the Sarum Missal of the Middle Ages, the Epistle reading for 2 Advent was from Romans 15 that included verse 4. “For what ever was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the enlightenment of the Scriptures we might have a hope.” Thus this post-Reformation collect was perfectly suited for the lessons of that particular Sunday. It reflected the importance of Holy Scripture in public and private life, now that the Scriptures could be heard, read and studied in the vernacular. This was a recent privilege for which many literally had given their lives. 

A number of truths can be gleaned from this collect. First it underscores the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. It is the “Blessed Lord” and not man who caused it to be written. Additionally He did not just inspired some Scripture rather He inspired “all” Scripture (ref. 2 Timothy 3:16). This means that it is not just the red letters that are important to us. And since the LORD caused it “all” to be written we cannot dismiss the Old Testament or read the Gospels against the Epistles, as early and modern heresies are want to do. 

The order in which the collect calls us to interact with Holy Scripture is informative. The list is arranged so that one task naturally leads the next. After the text is heard we want to read it for ourselves. Reading naturally leads to study in order to gain better understanding, and so we “mark” and “learn.” Study then leads to seeking ways to apply Scripture as a part of our lives, hence we “inwardly digest” it. 

It is also noteworthy that this list reflects Scriptural priorities. There are many more verses in Scripture about hearing God and His Word than there are reading it. Also there are more verses about reading God’s Word than studying it. And the point of doing these three sacred tasks in these ways is to be comforted by His holy Word and thereby persevere in our faith. His Word is to be our daily manna, heavenly food that sustains us for the journey.  

Perhaps the most important gleaning from this collect is that it reminds us of the source of our blessed hope. Our hope is not in Holy Scripture but rather in the One  revealed by the Scripture, namely “our Lord Jesus Christ.” This vital distinction keeps us from hearing Jesus’ rebuke of the legalistic leaders. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, it is these that testify of Me.” (John 5:39).  As one of my teachers so succinctly put it, “The Scriptures are a treasure map, but the treasure is Jesus.”

As we hope and wait during the season of Advent we can celebrate that God in His goodness has given us the most important treasure map of all time. It is up to each of us to open the map and find the Treasure.