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First Sunday in Advent

Preparation. ‘Tis the season for it! Whether it be wrapping presents, decorating the house, sending cards, baking delicious treats, or preparing ourselves to spend Christmas without a loved one, we are preparing for a busy season. For the Church, we begin our ‘new year’ in the season of Advent by preparing our spaces of worship with greenery and the bright red glow of the poinsettia flower. In a way we are preparing the ‘worship hall’ for a festive time, awaiting the arrival of a Monarch, who will proclaim the message of salvation to all who anticipate his glorious arrival. With so much preparations taking place, whether in our worship spaces, or in the liminal spaces of our daily rhythms, we become busy.

 

And busy-ness is a good distraction from reality. The reality is that the world seems to lack the appearance of a coming kingdom in which the Prince of Peace rules victoriously. No doubt there are signs and indications of such a kingdom, but the reality is that we are not there yet. The phenomenon of waiting in between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ may create a sense of anxiety, concern, or worry, yet, at the same encourages a sense of excitement, joy, and hope. The evidences of Christ’s kingdom on earth may seem far apart and few in number, but the reality is that the Church is commanded to deliver this message of salvation from sin and extend an invitation to live into the fullness of what Christ gives us, whereby the world experiences this peace. Are we prepared to do so?

 

Whether or not you feel prepared, I imagine you are prepared to some degree, but preparations never really end, do they? Especially as a Christian, the very nature of weekly worship and the discipline of daily prayer assumes that we are not prepared, yet at the same time, we are prepared to a degree. Prepared for what, exactly? Prepared for Christ’s arrival and the many results this event concludes.

 

In my research, I read mostly 17th and 18th century text on the Lord’s Supper, worship, or devotional practises. My research focuses on the converting nature of the Lord’s Supper in the writings of Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729) and John Wesley (1703-1791), so I find myself reading a lot of the works that influenced them. One in particular is by an English layman, Robert Nelson (1656-1715) who wrote Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England: With Collects and Prayers for each Solemnity, 2nd Edition, (London: Printed by W. Bower for A. and F. Churchil at the Black Swan in Pater-noster-row, 1704). So, for the Sundays in Advent, I’m going to share his devotional material, which reads like a catechesis, for a different and hopefully encouraging way of preparing for Christ’s arrival.

 

Nelson wrote this tract to help people live a holy life. In the Preface, he says the purpose of his work is not necessarily for ‘those who have not yet reconciled themselves to Her [the Church of England] Constitution,’ but for those within the Church who displayed feelings of contempt and behaviours neglect regarding the application of these feasts and fasts (Preface, i). What are Festivals and Fasts, you might wonder?

 

Nelson defines the festivals as those days set apart for the remembrance of special services and Saints. By special services, he means those that take place in the liturgical calendar, such as the Nativity, the Resurrection, or Pentecost. By saints, he means those historical figures in the Church who imparted Christian knowledge and proclaimed the Gospel but also attested the ‘truth of it with their Blood.’ (1)

 

Fasts, whether public or private, are days set apart by the Church for the practise of self-denial, contrition, and grievance of sin[s]. These days include, again, certain days in the liturgical calendar as well as some Saints.

 

Primarily, this literature is devotional in nature, meant to supplement, not substitute, the Book of Common Prayer and the attendance of public worship. As such, consider my propagation of this material to follow suit. Engage with it critically or complimentary, but please do consider it as supplementary alongside engaging in weekly worship with your local congregation.

 

I have considered whether or not to edit the material in a way that would read more easily for the modern reader without sacrificing its historic tone. As such, I decided to refrain from such edits to allow you to experience the joy I have in reading historic works like this one. Seriously, it is a joy, and I’m not just expressing sarcasm. (Which is rare and unusual for me, I know)

 

The only edits I offer are simple. For instance, I maintain the catechism form but I number the questions for ease of compilation and compartmentalisation. Nelson, as do others, capitalises several words. I only capitalise those words which specifically hold significance in doctrinal or theological matters. i.e. Church, Christ, Nativity, Easter, etc… Finally, I include the Scriptural references that appear in the margins of the original work within the main body of this work.

 

I present to you an excerpt from the section on Advent to help you prepare for the Second Coming of Christ in this season of parallel meaning in observing and remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World.

 

Advent (pp. 26-28)

 

Q1. What do you mean by Advent Sundays?

A, The Four Sundays that precede the Great Festival of our Saviour’s Nativity; which make a part of that time appointed by the Church to prepare our Minds by proper Meditations for a due Commemoration of Christ’s Coming in the Flesh.

 

Q2. With what Temper of mind ought we to commemorate the great Blessing of Christ’s Coming in the flesh?

A, With firm purposes and sincere resolutions of conforming our selves to the End and Design of our Saviour’s coming into the World. For since the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); the great care and business of our lives should tend to avoid every thing that is evil, to mortifie the deeds of the flesh, and not suffer sin to reign in our mortal bodies, to obey it in the Lusts thereof (Rom. 6:12); that since he gave himself for us to purifie to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Titus 2:14); we should give all diligence to add to our Faith Vertue, to Vertue Knowledge, to Knowledge Temperance, to Temperance Patience, to Patience Godliness, to Godliness Brotherly Kindness, and to Brotherley Kindness Charity; for if these things be in us, and abound, we shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Q3. What consideration does the Church offer to us, as proper to bring our Lives to a Conformity with the End and Design of Christ’s coming in the flesh?

A, The consideration of his Second Coming to judge the world, when he will execute vengeance upon all those that obey not the Gospel of Christ.

 

Q4. What do you mean by Christ’s coming to judgement?

A, That our Lord Jesus Christ shall at the end of the world descend from Heaven in his human nature; and summon all mankind to appear before his dreadful Tribunal; where they shall come upon their trial, have all their actions strictly examined, and according to the Nature and Quality of them, be adjudged to eternal Happiness or eternal Misery.

 

Prayer I (p. 37)

Almighty God, give me grace, that I may cast away the Works of Darkness, and put upon me 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 dead, I may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost now and ever. Amen.

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