A “collect” (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable) is a short form of Christian prayer. It is written to be used in public worship, and has several traditional elements. In the Anglican Church, we are given a collect for each Sunday of the Church year. So, Easter Sunday has a special collect, as does the Sunday closest to September 22nd, as do they all. These are called the “Collect of the Day.”
Having grown up in this tradition, and having now been ordained (in a few days) for eleven years, I’m familiar with all the Collects of the Day. Since I was a child, my favorite of all of them has been the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent. It was written by the great Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, and first appeared in the 1549 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Here it is, as he wrote it: 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.
Advent, the season that begins this year on Sunday, November 29, is the first portion of the Christian Year. It is the time in which the Church prepares for both the First Coming of Christ (the Incarnation) and also for the Second Coming (the End of the Age). You see both of these in this collect. ‘This mortal life in which Christ came to visit us in great humility” is his incarnation. “The last day, when he shall come again” is his second coming.
The poetry of the prayer is based in part on the New Testament reading that was appointed for this day back in 1549. Romans 13:12 says “The night is far spent, the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light.”
The prayer weaves together the reading, as well as the meaning of the season. More importantly, it asks God for a two fold grace. First, that by grace we will put away the works of darkness. With God’s help we will repent, leave behind our wicked ways. Second, that by grace we will put on the armor of light, the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6:10 etc.
Both the First and Second Coming are about light coming into the world, as in John 1:4 etc. So the prayer uses the imagery of light and darkness, as well as other poetic use of the English language like “this mortal life” vs “the life immortal.”
It is a beautiful prayer, a poetic prayer. It is a prayer that is founded in the Bible, as prayer is at its best. It is also a prayer that opens us up to God’s special grace during this holy season. In the midst of all the shopping and driving and football and everything else that these last few days have been about, it is a door to the Reality of the season. I commend it to your use, but today and in the season to come.