An almost imperceptible difference between contemporary versions of the Advent Collect and its original comes very near the beginning. It may just be a difference in emphasis, but it’s one I’ve needed to sit with these past four Sundays. Contemporary versions read like this: “give us grace that *we may…put on* the armour of light.” God gives grace, but we’re the ones putting on the armour. This reading has passed into the customary public prayer of the original: our inflection and emphasis still sounds like we’re the subject of the action, that the mood is the same subjunctive as the first request, “that we may cast away the works of darkness.”
But look further. The original reads “…,and put *upon us* the armour of light.” The key here is when: “in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.” We aren’t the active agent here: the mood isn’t the subjunctive of “that we may cast away,” but the same supplicatory imperative of “give us grace.” The prayer really reads, “Almighty God,…put upon us the armour of light.” Tonight we remember when Almighty God fully put upon us His light, by visiting us in the great humility and helplessness of the manger, of this frail, mortal flesh that we all share.
But this isn’t a prayer for Christmas: it’s the Collect to be prayed every day from Advent Sunday *until* tonight. It is therefore the prayer of waiting, the prayer of longing, the prayer that names our inability to make our own light, to make our own just judgments, to raise ourselves from the dead. Even if this waiting is active, whatever that activity looks like for you, it is still waiting. Waiting for the Advent of someone beyond ourselves, beyond our control, beyond our grasp or even expectations of time.
I’ve needed to sit with this emphasis of “put upon us” instead of “that we may put on” because the last few months have been a time of great *passivity* for me. And with all that internalized and socialized pressure to be active, to “make life happen,” this passivity has been a time of suffering, lament, loss, disorientation, confusion, anxiety, fear, and, to be fair, a bit of self-indulgence. Amidst all the claims of what “could have been” or what I might think “should have been,” it’s often hard to see what *is,* now, in “the time of *this* mortal life.” Because we hitch our identities and hopes on what “will be,” or “might be,” in some imagined future. But by that imagined future I don’t mean the very real future of “the last day,” but the dream of stable career, family, or whatever might be just over that next horizon.
That imagined future of our own making pales, wanes, is merely a shadow of the very real future of the Last Day, of Christ’s Glorious Majesty come “to judge both the quick and the dead,” come to raise us “to the life immortal.” When all those things we built don’t really matter so much (they matter, especially if they’re built for others, but that’s not my emphasis right now). What will matter most is if Almighty God puts upon us the armour of light; which He has, by putting upon Himself our mortal life, our great helplessness, passivity, and humility. This isn’t simply what might be or could be. This is what is.
Come, Lord Jesus, and raise us to life immortal. Amen.