Advent Collect [tradition/reflection]

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent begins as we approach the darkest time of the year. The days draw in. On cloudy days, headlights and domestic lights are needed by mid-afternoon. The darkness extends its reach. Go to the far north and you will find no daylight: the polar night extends from November to January. In those months, the sun doesn’t rise at all.  

We also begin Advent aware of the world’s darkness: of the pandemic that stalks the globe, of the divisions and inequalities which blight nations and communities, of the sin which commodifies people and planet. 

As Advent begins we light a candle, and another and another and another. until we acclaim the truest light of all, Jesus Christ. As Advent begins, the darkness is dispelled by one tiny, flickering flame, lit in expectation, in hope, and in longing for the light that is coming into the world. This is what helps us to face the darkness, within and without. It is salvation that dawns from outside us – that comes as the pure gift of the God who comes to ‘visit us in great humility’ in the newborn baby in the manger, and who will ‘come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead’. 

These Advents, in the incarnation and the second coming, pierce the world’s darkness with the radiance of God’s glory. Both Advents assure us of God’s love, of his desire to draw us into the relationship with him for which he made us but which sin – the works of darkness – has damaged. In his first coming, in humility Jesus embraces our poverty that we might share in his riches (cf 2 Corinthians 8.9), coming to make his home among us, that through his life, death and resurrection he might bring us to the place where he is. His second coming promises the final revelation of his glory, as the victory he won over sin on the cross finally brings to light the things now hidden in darkness, as all things are subjected to his judgement. 

In the between-times, which is where we live, we pray for grace ‘to cast away the works of darkness and to put upon us the armour of light’ (cf Romans 13.12). What this looks like in its specifics will be different for each of us, and in the light of Christ’s coming into the world, one thing Advent invites us to is the sort of self-examination that identifies those habits, attitudes and practices that collude with or add to the world’s darkness. Where do you need grace to cast away the works of darkness? What does Christ’s light show up in you? Where is he inviting you to put your trust more fully in him? 

And what does it mean for you to put on the armour of light? For those of us unfamiliar or uncomfortable with martial imagery, another way of asking this might be to consider what it means that we have ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 13.14 – two verses on from Paul writing about the armour of light).

How is Christ’s life visible in you?

How is he calling you to live his life more fully?

And how, by the grace at work in you, can you be a bearer of his light for others? 

Anna Matthews is the Vicar of St Bene’t’s, Cambridge.