O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship on the morrow give you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 123)
This Saturday is a sort of New (Church) Year’s Eve, as tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical calendar.
The year ends with a lovely hymn to creation:
Bless the LORD, O my soul; *
O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness! you are clothed with majesty and splendor.
You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.
You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot; you ride on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.
You have set the earth upon its foundations, *
so that it never shall move at any time. (Psalm 104:1-5)
Psalm 104 is a playful poem — “There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it” (27) — and reading it lights up one’s face, making for “a cheerful countenance” (16).
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Light enters the picture in the Gospel appointed for this evening, too.
Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. He will soon be making his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, setting in motion the events that will lead to his arrest and crucifixion.
Before they get too far out of Jericho, however, two blind men who are sitting by the road cry out “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
They stop Jesus in his tracks and he asks “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, let our eyes be opened,” they reply.
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It’s customary before Sundays and Major Feasts to “anticipate the feast,” so that the feast has a first Evening Prayer, then Morning and Evening Prayer on the day itself.
At Evening Prayer tonight we are in a sort of swing time between the end of one year and the beginning of another, and the collects we pray reflect that tension.
We pray on Saturdays that God will “shed forth his unending light on us who watch for [him].”
Looking toward that dawning with our eyes open, we pray the collect for the First Sunday of 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 for ever. Amen. (BCP 211)
With our eyes open, it’s all too easy to see how God’s beautiful, playful creation is soiled by “the works of darkness.”
Fr. Eric Funston, an Episcopal priest and fellow Daily Office blogger, wonders in his post on Wednesday’s readings how the Bible speaks to a world gone mad. He writes,
I think the Scriptures are meant to address a sane world, a world where being “a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even . . . mischief-maker” is something outside the norm, a world where though “fiery ordeals” may exist they are not understood to be the normative state. That is not our world, however. We live in a world that is mad. We live in a world where mass murder has become a daily reality. We live in a world which is a fiery ordeal.
In a world gone mad, we need more than ever to “put on the armor of light,” to make ourselves secure in the Bible’s vision of order and peace, to arm ourselves with the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins (Luke 1:77).
We are armored, therefore, not to stand against other people, but in order to withstand the darkness of despair.
Remember, we follow an undefended Lord, who “came to visit us in great humility,” who even stopped in his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross — the culmination of his purpose — to heal two blind men who called out for mercy.
So with our eyes open to the darkness around us, we look for the light.
We look for the humble Christ in other people, just as he urged us to do.
We attend to those who cry for mercy, like he did, that with him we may “rise to the life immortal.”
Featured image by Brian Jekel.