This post, in addition to being a part of Rookie Anglican, is part of a series on the Collects of the Christian Year (ACNA), called “Collect Reflections.” If you’re just jumping in, make sure to check out the introductory post, “Announcing Collect Reflections.” All Collect Reflection posts can be found here.
Collect for the First Sunday in Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your 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 living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
One of my former priests drew richly from the Bible’s “war” imagery in his preaching and teaching. With fire in his eyes and passion in his voice, he would often charge the congregation to live out their calling as soldiers of Christ: “You’re in a war, church! It’s time to put on your boots and kick in the gates of Hell!”
We are indeed waging war, and now is the time to put on the armor. Our Collect for the First Sunday of Advent says as much.
The collect draws our attention to the war that each Christian is caught up in. It is the ancient feud between good and evil, flesh and spirit, light and darkness. But unlike much of the modern rhetoric on “Spiritual Warfare,” which focuses on evil spirits and dark forces “out there,” the collect draws us into the deeper, more intimate spiritual war that each of us wage: the war against our own sin and darkness.
St. Paul pulls back the curtain on this war in Romans 7. In words that resonate with any believer attempting to “cast away the works of darkness,” he says, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19, ESV). This is the spiritual war that each “soldier of Christ” must fight daily. It is the battle against our own flesh–our own sinful darkness. It is real. It is dangerous. And if left to our own devices, we would surely fail. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25).
God in his grace has provided for us an “armor of light!” Galatians 3:27 tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Through the waters of baptism, God has dressed us for war. We have received as our armor the precious gift of Christ himself–his death has become our death, and his resurrection has become very own. Jesus, who took on our flesh and “came to visit us in great humility” has vanquished Sin, Death, and the Devil by his cross and resurrection. The darkness of that tomb could not hold him, and the good news for this world is that neither will the darkness of our own evil deeds hold us. The promise of baptism is that on the great and final day, we too will rise from our tomb, forever casting off the evil that has haunted us for so long.
Until that day, though, we are caught in the “in-between.” We are in this life, as Luther famously said, “Sinner and Saint.” Through baptism, we have been gifted with the impenetrable armor of Christ’s righteousness. But even still, the darkness of our flesh still wages war against us.
This is why the collect for the First Sunday of Advent is so important. It calls us to return again to the fountain of baptism so that, having drunk deeply of God’s grace, mercy, and victory, we would fight the good fight against sin and the flesh.
Put on your armor, Church! Remember your baptism! It’s time to kick in the gates of Hell!
Fr. Myles Hixson, a priest in the Diocese of Christ our Hope, serves as the associate pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Roanoke, VA. To learn more about the growing relationship between the ACNA and the NALC, click here.