In the process of preparing my sermon for this Sunday, I got side-tracked meditating on the collect. There’s a lot to glean from this which I didn’t have time to fit into what I ended up preaching, so I’ve saved it for a separate write-up here.
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.
This collect breaks down into three statements: 1) Jesus is among us, 2) we are hindered by sin, and 3) God’s grace & mercy saves us. These also show up Sunday’s gospel reading from John 1.
#1: Jesus is among us. In John 1:26-7 John the Baptizer announces “among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me…” This was spoken to a mixed crowd of people, many of whom were never going to end up recognizing their own Messiah. Similarly, today, Jesus goes unnoticed and unrecognized by many, but those of us in the know are aware that he is among us. Too often, though, we take this for granted, and act as if this is as good as it gets, when in reality God wants to work among us in mighty ways. And so we pray that God would stir up his power and make his works known among us – implying that we can and should be ready to work with him too.
#2: We are sorely hindered by our sins. We need to respond to the cry in John 1:23 just as much as the original audience – “Make straight the way for the Lord.” Typically, the only thing really stopping us from recognizing God’s presence (and acting accordingly) is our own sinful nature. It’s tempting and easy to pin blame on other things like distractions, friends, family life, work, and so on. Sin may well be working through those things, but we’ve got to recognize that sin is what separates us from recognizing & joining God’s activity, nothing else.
#3: We need God’s grace and mercy to help & deliver us. In John 1:27, Jesus is described as being someone whom “the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Touching someone’s feet was the lowliest possible job in their culture – Jews would pass the job of washing feet to their lowliest Gentile servants; it was literally the crappiest job imaginable. So for John the Baptizer to say that he is unworthy to touch Jesus’ feet… that’s just unimaginable. John was a prophet; he was important! They only being that he’s unworthy to go near, really, is God himself, and that’s exactly what he’s getting at here. There’s something unique about Jesus; he is that long-awaited Messiah who’ll deal with the sins of the whole world – not just yours and mine but everything in this world.
Looking even more closely at this line in the prayer, we should think of“deliverance” like delivery – inanimate objects that have to moved. We’re like that with regard to sin; we can’t move ourselves out of sin. It’s just like how I have to remind myself: “those Christmas cards aren’t going to deliver themselves!” Hardly anyone got Christmas cards from Becca & I last year as a result of my inaction. So God’s grace and mercy aren’t simply to “help” us along, but also to “deliver us” completely.
And as always, we offer this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom (along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit) belongs honor & glory both now and for ever.