Stir up your power, O Lord… BCP, p.212
Here’s a question for you. Why the pink, or rose-colored, candle on our Advent wreath this morning? After all, the other three candles are all either violet or perhaps a shade of blue. Need a hint? Well, consider that this is the third Sunday in our current Advent season, a time of reflection and even penitence in preparation for Christmas and the Incarnation. Traditionally, the church invites us today, half way through Advent, to lighten up a little on our penitential practices. The pink candle on the Advent wreath, as well as the rose-colored vestments seen on this day in some churches, reminds us of the hope and joy to come in the Nativity of the Lord.
Not that most of us these days need a break from fasting and prayer in the hectic final weeks before Christmas. Quite likely, just the opposite is true. Would that we were so earnest about our Advent observance that we needed a break from its rigors. Perhaps what we really need is to lighten up on last minute shopping and social engagements and allow the Lord to genuinely stir up our hearts in anticipation of what this season is really about: Emmanuel, God With Us.
But rather than ask God to stir us up this morning, we begin our prayer by asking the Lord to stir up himself. “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.” So begins our prayer or collect for this morning’s liturgy. Reflect for a moment on the imagery. We do not begin by asking God to stir us up, though we may need it. We do not begin with ourselves at all. We start with a challenge to God. Rouse yourself. Get into action. There is work to do, and no time to lose.
We ordinarily ascribe many virtues to God—we call God almighty, everlasting, unchanging, all knowing, and constant, among others. But we do not often think of God as being all stirred up. We do not think of God as getting excited, much less exuberant about things or even people. Who could blame God, we might even think, for not being particularly excited or thrilled about us? God has certainly seen it all before. Most of us today are pretty ordinary folks. There is not much we can surprise God with. We might even be at a point when we ourselves find it hard to generate enthusiasm for the things and people of our own lives. Who could blame the Lord if he did get just a little bored with us, so “sorely hindered by our sins,” as the prayer this morning continues.
So our challenge to the Lord this day is all the more remarkable. “Stir up your power.” No Anglican reticence here. Not even a “please” or “if you wouldn’t mind.” Yet there is something just a little disquieting about this prayer as well: because if you call upon the Lord to get stirred up and involved, it might just happen. The Lord might after all “with great power come among us.” Be careful what you pray for, the old saying goes. You may get it. We had better think twice. For surely it would be better to continue to experience God in more manageable terms; as benevolent and kindly no doubt, but not particularly involved, certainly not as energized and excited. And not excited about us, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t it safer to leave God in a book or a box where we can keep an eye on him?
God needs little encouragement from us to stir things up. Witness today’s Gospel account, as John’s emissaries quiz Jesus about his role and mission. Jesus in response describes the mighty works that are taking place all around him: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” There is nothing inert or stagnant in this Gospel picture of the Lord at work, stirred up and engaged. This is what happens, Jesus seems to say, when God’s power and might come among us.
The Lord is not yet through with us and our world. Evidence of God’s might is all around us. But, as in Jesus’ day, God’s power manifests itself not among the high and mighty, but among the lowly and vulnerable. God’s might is felt in lives rescued from despair and hopelessness, in people transformed by grace, and in all the little miracles of everyday life. The Lord’s power and might still have the capacity to change everything.
But, if the Lord does stir things up today—what then? What will we do? How will we respond? We might have to stir ourselves in kind. We might have to allow ourselves to be moved by the Lord’s might and power. We might have to change, to do things differently. And that is a challenge we may not be prepared for. It is always more comfortable to remain as we are, hindered by our sins and basking in our excuses. They are familiar friends, more than happy to detain us, hold us back, and urge caution. The last thing most of us want is to get all stirred up, to get carried away.
So how is it that we find ourselves here today, waiting patiently in anticipation of the Lord’s Nativity, yet asking—demanding, really—that the Lord stir up his power and come among us? Are we not asking for trouble? Should we not pray instead for something safer and more tangible—good weather on Christmas Eve or lovely presents under the tree? But in fact we cannot help ourselves in what we pray, for it is God’s power itself that stirs us to prayer.
In medieval times, this day—the Third Sunday of Advent—was called Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word for “rejoice.” As we pray today, we also rejoice that the Lord does not fail to rouse his power and might and do amazing things in our lives. The Lord’s power in the end cannot be resisted. The Lord cannot be dissuaded from his attachment to us. So share this season the story of God’s “bountiful grace and mercy” at work in our world. What Jesus commanded John’s disciples, he commands us as well: Go and tell others what you hear and see.
-- The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is interim rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Plymouth, Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.