Advent 3

It’s Gaudete Sunday (gaudete means rejoice, which begins the introit for the day), my sixth one here in Bordentown, and it got me thinking about my first one here.  I was a priest for only a couple of weeks and I was about as nervous as I could be; it was all I could do to not set fire to the Advent wreath or me or the children, what with my shaky hands.  That first Gaudete Sunday we didn’t have a set of rose vestments, and I so wished to have a set, and so I set out to find one for us.  This set looked fabulous when I saw it online, but I think fabulous might be the right word for it.  Pink is another. Maybe Gaudete Sunday should be called Be Careful What You Wish For Sunday.

It wouldn’t be out of bounds for me to think that I wasn’t the first person to call it Be Careful What You Wish For Sunday.  Just listen to the start of our Collect for the Day: “Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”  What?  You can practically hear someone saying “Who dares disturb my slumber.”  When I get nervous about approaching someone powerful I always think of Max Von Sydow as King Osric in Conan the Barbarian, “What daring!  What outrageousness! What insolence!  What arrogance! … I salute you.”

I seriously get nervous every time I say this collect, which means that I’m lucky we don’t use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  My friend Fr. Steve Pankey points out that “Marion Hatchett (of blessed memory) points out that (the Stir Up collects) are leftovers from the old Sarum usage.  “This one remnant (our collect today is) of a series of four prayers which began with ‘excita’ (stir up) used on four of the last five Sundays before Christmas in the Sarum missal, this prayer sets forth better than the others the themes of the two advents: the first in which He came in humility, and the second in which He comes in power; the first in which He came to save, and the second in which He comes to help and relieve.” (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, 167)1

What great words good ole’ Marion Hatchett used: humility, power, save, help, relieve.  So maybe I shouldn’t get so nervous about stirring up the Lord. Certainly the Brits don’t worry too much about it, since they use the collect to remind themselves to make pudding.  I’m not kidding.  “Since most recipes for Christmas pudding call for the mixture to stand for several weeks before cooking, the day subsequently became connected, in countries which used the Book of Common Prayer, with the preparation of Christmas puddings in readiness for Christmas.  Supposedly, cooks, wives and their servants would go to church, hear the words ‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…’, and be reminded, by association of ideas, that it was about time to start stirring up the puddings for Christmas.”2 They call it Stir Up Sunday.

And so we look to what the prophet Isaiah has to say about what happens when the Lord gets stirred up:

“Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.  He will come and save you.”  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,” Isaiah tells us, “and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”

In other words, what is old is made new, what is broken is made whole, what is lifeless is stirred up, brimming with life.

It’s Gaudete Sunday, Rose Sunday, Stir Up Sunday, and Be Careful What You Wish For Sunday, and we’ve asked for our Lord to stir and with great might to come among us.  I still say that could be a little scary; what if He answers that prayer?  Will He stir up His power and send us out into the cold to proclaim Christ, to be Christ to the world outside this warm room?  Will He stir and then send us out to make the old new, to heal the broken, to bring life to the desolate?  I think He already has and that He will keep using Christ Church to spread the good news of Christ Jesus in Bordentown and beyond. To what extent might be up to us, so we might want to be careful what we wish for.

1The Rev. Steve Pankey, Draughting Theology.

2Wikipedia, Stir Up Sunday

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