Monday, 19 December 2011

Running the Race: Charles Kingsley on Advent

O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
This is the Collect for the 4th Sunday of Advent in the Book of Common Prayer. When googling it to post here, I found this reflection on it, from a sermon by Charles Kingsley (published in his collection The Good News of God, in 1859):

For God’s sake – for Christ’s sake – for your own sake – keep that in mind, that Christ’s will, and therefore God’s will, is to help and deliver us; that he stands by us, and comes among us, for that very purpose. Consider St Paul’s parable, in which he talks of us as men running a race, and of Christ as the judge who looks on to see how we run. But for what purpose does Christ look on? To ‘catch us out’, as we say? To mark down every fault of ours, and punish wherever he has an opportunity or a reason? Does he stand there spying, frowning, fault-finding, accusing every man in his turn, extreme to watch what is done amiss? If an earthly judge did that, we should call him – what he would be – an ill-conditioned man. But dare we fancy anything ill-conditioned in God? God forbid! His conditions are altogether good, and his will a good will to men; and therefore, say the Epistle and the Collect, we ought not to be terrified, but to rejoice, at the thought that the Lord is looking on. However badly we are running our race, yet if we are trying to move forward at all, we ought to rejoice that God in Christ is looking on.

And why?

Why? Because he is looking on, not to torment, but to help. Because he loves us better than we love ourselves. Because he is more anxious for us to get safely through this world than we are ourselves.

Will you understand that, and believe that, once for all, my friends? God is not against you but for you, in all the struggles of life; He wants you to get through safe; wants you to succeed; wants you to conquer; and He will hear your cry out of the deep and help you.

And therefore when you find yourselves wrong, utterly wrong, do not cry to this man or that man, "Do you help me; do you set me a little more right before God comes, and finds me in the wrong and punishes me." Cry to God Himself, to Christ Himself; ask Him to lift you up; ask Him to set you right. Do not be like St. Peter before his conversion, and cry, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord; wait a little till I have risen up, and washed off my stains, and made myself somewhat fit to be seen."—No. Cry, "Come quickly, O Lord—at once—just because I am a sinful man; just because I am sore let and hindered in running my race by my own sins and wickedness; because I am lazy and stupid; because I am perverse and vicious, therefore raise up Thy power, and come to me, Thy miserable creature, Thy lost child, and with Thy great might succour me. Lift me up, because I have fallen very low; deliver me, for I have plunged out of Thy sound and safe highway into deep mire where no ground is. Help myself I cannot, and if Thou help me not, I am undone."

Do so. Pray so. Let your sins and wickedness be to you not a reason for hiding from Christ, who stands by; but a reason, the reason of all reasons, for crying to Christ, who stands by. And then, whether He delivers you by gentle means or by sharp ones, deliver you He will, and set your feet on firm ground, and order your goings, that you may run with patience the race which is set before you along the road of life and the pathway of God's commandments wherein there is no death.

This, my friends, is one of the meanings of Advent. This is the meaning of the Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel. – That God in Christ stands by us, ready to help and deliver us; and that if we cry to him even out of the lowest depth, he will hear our voice. And that then, when he has once put us into the right road again, and sees us going bravely along it to the best of the power which he has given us, he will fulfil to us his eternal promise, "Thy sins – and not only thy sins, but thine iniquities – I will remember no more."

N.B. the Epistle for the 4th Sunday of Advent, to which he refers, is Philippians 4.4-7 ('Rejoice in the Lord alway') and the Gospel is John 1.19-28.

The picture is Fritz von Uhde's 1890 painting 'The Hard Path (The Road to Bethlehem)', a translation of the German title, 'Schwerer Gang'.


Anonymous said...

I thank you for this. I just discovered your blog, via a Google search for information about "Conditor Alme Sideris" and I have bookmarked it for daily use. Wonderful stuff.

Clerk said...

Glad to hear it!