The Book of Common Prayer’s appointed Collect for the Sunday before Christmas is culturally subversive at a profound level. It is certainly not what you would call a mince pie prayer:
‘O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.’
This subverts the contemporary Western cult of the self in three ways:
1) It celebrates the transcendent power of Almighty God, our creator, judge and saviour. It calls God ‘Lord’ thus recognising his absolute authority in the universe and asks him to raise up his ‘power and come among us’. This expresses not only the right of the Lord God to intervene in human affairs but our need for him to do so. The Collect’s ethos is thus a very long way from ‘I did it my way’.
2) It faces up to our intrinsic human evil for which we are personally accountable – ‘through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us’. The biblical reference for that statement is the New Testament book of Hebrews: ‘Wherefore, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12v1-2a – King James Version).
3) It denies human spiritual and moral self-sufficiency, summarised in such phrases as ‘you’ve gotta follow your heart’. For our sorely-needed spiritual deliverance, we require the ‘satisfaction’ of God’s Incarnate Son. That is a reference to Christ’s atoning death on the Cross, when he bore the just divine punishment for our human sinfulness and thus secured our eternal salvation.
This Collect is, of course, in a different spiritual and moral universe from the contemporary Christmas celebration. Being the work of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for his 1552 Reformed Prayer Book (incorporated in the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer) it pre-dates the incipiently self-indulgent Victorian Christmas which our generation has inherited and indeed further corrupted with our rampant materialism.
Prayerfully and thoughtfully used, this Collect well serves as a prayer of commitment for a person who wants to begin their journey of Christian faith or, in the prayer’s own terms, to begin the race. For those of us who have been on the journey for some time, its realism is so spiritually refreshing in our, in many ways, soul-destroying, self-worshipping culture.
May Conservative Woman readers minded and moved to pray it be richly blessed by it.