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Advent 3B

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, 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 basic form of this prayer has been used as an advent prayer from at least the 700s in various parts of the world (its current form originates from the Galesian sacramentary and the Sarum missal).[1]

The first phrase expressed an Advent longing. Stir up expresses desire, darkness, waiting, anticipation, and desperation. We might consider what specific longings or pain in our world leads us to command God in such a way. Perhaps the command to stir up might help us become awake to the brokenness around us, the poverty and need that infects our world. On this third Sunday of Advent, the church collectively calls upon God to be stirred, roused, excited.[2]

We are asking that God’s power be roused and that with great might God would come among us. This is the Advent theme of the second coming (or, better, the Lord’s appearing or parousia). It is a way of saying “Maranatha! Come Lord!” This prayer is a longing for God to intervene in the world.

We might also see this as hope for God’s intervention in our worship. As we gather this day, we ask that God’s power be made known to us. We might imagine and watch for ways God will display God’s power and great might among us today, even as we wait for the Lord’s appearing.

The nearness of our need and desire becomes expressed in the second part of the prayer. Speedily help and deliver us. We need help now. We need deliverance now. The prayer offers a reason for our need and a confession of our plight: because we are sorely hindered by our sins. Here is opportunity to reflect upon the deep, systemic, pervasive sin in our world. We might also reflect upon our personal sins – ways we participate in harming those around us. Whether we consider our own sins or the systemic sin of our world, we are, indeed, sorely hindered. We certainly need God’s help and deliverance – as quickly as possible.

Because of this sinful hindering, we say to God, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us. Here there are hints of the first advent – grace and mercy given to us in the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost. We know God’s grace and mercy abound. We remember, and we hope. This remembering might help provide the joy that often marks the third Sunday of Advent.

In fact, the prayer this week offers a great taste of both the first and second advents of Christ.[3] Christ has come. Oh, what bountiful grace and mercy! Christ will come again. Oh, what power and might! We can easily find joy in the reality and hope of these advents.

Yet we find ourselves in a troubled world, full of troubling news. The desperation of this prayer seems especially relevant. It gives language to the desire of our heavy hearts in such a dark world. Do something, God! Quickly! We need you! Stir up your power, O Lord!

The third Sunday of Advent is often the Sunday of Joy or Gaudete Sunday. Even here, in the light of the rose-colored candle, the prayer of the day us reminds us of our brokenness and need. There is Joy to be sure, but the joy is in our hope that the power of God can be stirred, quickly break into the world, and free us from captivity. The joy is in remembering that God’s abundant grace and mercy have been shown already in the first advent of Christ. This day, as we live between the two advents and as we pray for God’s power to be stirred up, may the Lord indeed quickly help and deliver us from the darkness that hinders.

[1] Marion J. Hatchett, Commentary on the American Prayer Book (New York: HarperOne, 1995) 166-7.

[2] Hatchett notes that in the Sarum missal, this was one of four prayers during Advent that began with the same request of God: stir up (excita).

[3] Ibid.