St John the Baptist Parish Church

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Vicar's column - December 2017

Stir up we beseech thee O Lord the wills of thy faithful people

Collect for Sunday next before Advent BCP*

By the time you get to read this letter the countdown to Christmas will already be well under way, and in the Church we will have begun another Christian year.  ‘Stir up’ Sunday as it’s known - 26th November in 2017 and the final Sunday in the Church’s year - will be past and we will have started the cycle all over again with the season of Advent.  In the past, it was the time of year when the Christmas pudding was given a stir from East to West, to symbolise the journey of the wise men to Bethlehem. At my first school we all queued up and struggled to rotate a wooden spoon in a rather glutinous mixture. But there was no intentional irony in the title ‘Stir up’ – it simply comes from the words of the Collect (the special prayer for that day) in the Book of Common Prayer*, ‘Stir up we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people…’.

If you should ask why the Book of Common Prayer thought that the wills of folk should be stirred up, it was because Advent (meaning ‘preparation’), like Lent, was a season of penitence, when people were encouraged to prepare, not just for the coming of Jesus as a baby at Bethlehem, but also for His return at the end of time. The Advent Collect says it all

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.

Advent then in the Christian calendar is a time to mark endings and beginnings – a time for renewal, for change, in order to be ready for the miracle of the birth of the baby Jesus. It is also a time of darkness and light. As we move towards the shortest day of the year, we are called to ponder how we might throw off that darkness to embrace the light of Christ which is coming into the world. That’s one reason why candles play such a large part in the church’s preparation for Christmas. In churches up and down the land Advent wreaths with four purple candles lit on the successive Sundays in December will be used to prepare parishioners for the coming of Jesus the light of the world, the white candle in the centre, which we light on Christmas morning. When we respond to the love of Jesus our lives begin to shine with His light. 

May you then ‘put on the armour of light’ this Advent, so that when we celebrate on Christmas morning, you will truly know the joy and the hope that the Christ-child brings to the world, and to each one of us who turns to Him, and who tries to shine with His light.

With my very best wishes for Advent and Christmastide,

Rev David Ramsbottom -  Associate Minister