Collect Reflections: The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and as we are sorely hindered by our sins from running the race that is set before us, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.”
The Fourth Sunday in Advent is subtitled “Annunciation”, because the Gospel passages assigned for this Sunday focus on (in different ways) the announcement of the Messiah’s birth more than the actual birth itself. The Gospel passage we read in church today (Luke 1:26-38) is what you might call the Annunciation proper, because it is the passage that gives the famous and full account of the conversation between the Angel Gabrial and the Virgin Mary commonly called the Annunciation (and depicted in art under that name). This particular Gospel (for Year B in the Sunday Lectionary) has resonances with our Collect that the other Gospel passages assigned for Years A and C don’t quite have. I’d like to focus on those resonances briefly.
Commentators on Scripture down through church history have noticed that as a Gospel writer, Luke gives particular prominence to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes more explicitly identified appearances in Luke than in any other Gospel, and so many students of Scripture and theologians have concluded that Pneumatology (the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) is one of Luke’s theological emphases. It is no surprise, then, that the Holy Spirit makes an appearance in the story of the Annunciation. After hearing the announcement of her miraculous pregnancy and the coming birth of her son, Mary asks a rather natural question: “And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin? And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34-35, emphasis mine). The Holy Spirit is the agent of this miracle by his presence and his power, and it is these two features of the Holy Spirit’s work that we find our resonances with the Collect.
We ask in this Collect that God would stir up his power and come among us. We ask, in other words, for the presence and the power of God. We also ask that God’s grace and mercy would help and deliver us. Presence. Power. Grace. Mercy. Help. Deliverance. All of these things have the same source, and they all come to us by the same agency: the Holy Spirit himself. When we ask God for his presence and power, He answers with the Spirit. Or when we request grace and mercy, we receive it through the Holy Spirit’s work. Or when we cry out for help and deliverance, the Spirit himself comes to rescue us. The best answer to all of these prayers is the personal presence and power of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who is God Himself. When we ask God for the things toward which this Collect directs us, we are not asking for anything less than God, since it is only in, through, and from God that our prayers are answered. And so, let us ask for all these things. But let us also simply pray for more and more of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, since He is the ultimate answer to our prayers anyway. Come, Holy Spirit. Come and have your way. Amen.