It’s almost the end of the year. No, really. When I first became Anglican, I had little understanding of the church’s calendar. I knew that Advent was a thing that meant I should hold off on Christmas carols. I knew that Lent was a thing that meant I should give up something for 40 days. And…that was pretty much it.
I didn’t know that those seasons were situated in a bigger, richer view of the entire Christian year. That’s when I discovered that, for us, the year ends in November, on the last Sunday before Advent.
So, fellow Rookie Anglicans, let me say again: it’s almost the end of the year.
And honestly, that feels about right. I’ve been run pretty ragged lately and I feel like I’m just sort of dragging myself toward the finish line. Our collect anticipates that some of us may be in this state:
Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they may plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, as they await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to restore all things to their original perfection; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
Traditionally, the next to last Sunday of the year was called “Stir-up Sunday”, after the opening to this collect. It was the habit of churchgoers to celebrate this day by ‘stirring up’ their holiday puddings to be shared with neighbors and friends. (If anyone from my church is reading this, I’d especially encourage you to stir up something sweet for all of us!)
Pudding aside, these opening words are pretty unique among the collects. When a collect begins with a request of God, it’s usually a little milder, a little less active—something like “grant” or “keep” or “hear.” But here is something immediate and urgent: “Stir up, O Lord…”
Our sluggish souls could use that kind of jolt this time of year. But the request isn’t just for an espresso shot to the spirit; instead, we ask God that our wills might begin to bring forth the fruit of good works. The language here is of abundance, even harvest, putting us in mind of the overflowing cornucopias we might set out on our Thanksgiving dinner tables.
The reminder for us is that effort and energy don’t automatically produce anything. We can rush and give every appearance of busyness and yet have nothing good or valuable to show for it. We don’t just need jittery wakefulness to continue grinding through our days—we need our wills stirred by God’s Spirit to want what he wants and “bring forth the fruit of good works” that can only originate with him.
The idea of being stirred up might sound like getting ‘psyched up’ before a big game, as if it’s all on us and it’s ‘do or die’ out there. Taken that way, those words can put pressure on us to perform. But notice that’s not where the collect goes—we desire to stir our wills to good work in anticipation of Jesus’ ultimate restoration of “all things to their original perfection.”
In other words, we are invited into the work, and we’ve been shown fields white and ready for harvest, but we are not the authors or perfecters of this task. We work in full faith that God will make all things new, that all wrongs will be set right. When we see the overwhelming need and suffering of our world, we can roll up our sleeves and get to work without being paralyzed by the enormity of it.
This collect balances calling with comfort. We are stirred up in these final days of the year to shake off our weariness and work fruitfully for his purposes. And at the same moment, we are given the comfort of knowing that it’s not all on us, but that we look forward to the day when Jesus will bring all our efforts to a final perfection.