“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.” BCP p.212
Advent is full of encounters. People from all around the Judean countryside encounter a fiery preacher by the River Jordan. Mary and Joseph encounter heavenly beings who dramatically change the course of their lives, and ours, too. And Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth brings about Mary’s Magnificat, and the first encounter, in utero, between the aforementioned fiery preacher and his cousin Jesus, the one John was born to proclaim. And of course, all of these encounters are building toward the Great Encounter between the world and its Savior on Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us.
We probably all have stories we could tell about encounters that dramatically changed our lives, some of them planned, and some completely unexpected. And so we really ought to think twice about the collect appointed for this 3rd Sunday of Advent: “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” Sounds to me like we’re setting ourselves up for some pretty spectacular encounters! Are we ready for the kind of change such holy encounters invite us into?
But the funny thing about encounters, even holy ones, is that despite their often dramatic nature, those involved in the encounter never lose their agency, their freedom to choose whether the encounter will have a lasting effect, or not. Thousands came out to see John the Baptist and I’m certain many, perhaps even the majority went away unchanged. Mary could have said no. Joseph would have been in the right if he’d followed the norms of the day and dismissed Mary when he discovered she was “with child.” And the Gospels are full of people who encountered Jesus, dismissed him, and carried on life as before. And you know what? We’ve all probably been guilty of the same thing – walking away from an encounter with the Holy, and carrying on with our lives unchanged.
Change is never easy, and particularly when we’re talking about change on the scale that Mary and Joseph were confronting, or that perhaps you are facing in your own life. We always have a choice. Sometimes we don’t like the choices we face, and the changes that will ensue, but we are always free to choose whether to allow a holy encounter to lead us through an important change in our lives, or to carry on with the same old same old. So how do we make this time different? How do we choose the change that God is offering us? Despite my earlier note of caution, our collect for this 3rd Sunday in Advent is a good place to start because it reminds us that God’s power to stir up change in us is always accompanied by bountiful portions of God’s grace and mercy – always.
So pray away, and then buckle up! Emmanuel – God is with us, and stirring things up.
See you in Church.