The Sunday Next Before Advent
A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
In English we have the lovely word ‘zeal’ to express the sense of a devotion and a desire that rises above the drudgery of the commonplace, to lift the soul toward its higher and better calling. In this way zeal can mean the conviction that prevents a job from becoming heartless duty, and it can also be the spirit that waits on, and works toward, a better condition than we have yet known. We have zeal because we are moved by a hope in, and a desire for, something more than sheer survival; zeal implies goodness and beauty, and so it shares the same roots as the word ‘jealous’. Zeal is about the convicted movement of the heart toward its best goal or object.
Today is sometimes called ‘Stir Up Sunday’, because of the wonderful opening line from our collect: ‘stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.’ We pray, in other words, for zeal, we pray for the renewed sense of our higher calling, in whose terms our labours may be transformed, becoming good, and fruitful. This is the prayer, you might say, that spills out from the purified vision and joyful thanksgiving which crowns the journey of our Trinity season. Having come to know that our hearts and souls belong not just to ourselves, but also to God, we render them to Him with our faith and devotion. But it is not merely an offering of admiration to some distant deity; we have come to know God’s glory, through the working of His goodness, which is His zeal, for us. In that knowledge, we find the ground of a renewed and deepening hope, that we may place our full devout conviction, our zeal, in the promise of His care for us.
As we continue faithful in that conviction, all our labours take on the spirit of such Godly hope and purpose, so that in the hour of His appearing, regardless of how he may come to us, we may always recognize the advent of our king, and turn to Him with our joyful recognition: “looking upon Jesus as he walked, [John the Baptist] said, Behold the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” Meeting Him, we find the source of our zeal, and we offer our devotion in hope: ‘Rabbi, where do you dwell?’ And according to His gracious care for us, our hope is not disappointed: ‘He said unto them, come and see, and they came, and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day.’ In that event of divine hospitality, our vision, the vision of our true Goal and Object, our Lord and Saviour, becomes clear: “we have found the Messiah.” We come to find the ‘Lord Our Righteousness’, who gathers us to Himself when He comes among us. This is the spirit of zealous devotion that this Stir Up Sunday invites and inspires. Let us answer the call, our Master’s call, this Advent, to make our way with hope, to ‘come and see’ what good things are prepared for them who wait upon the Lord.