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Sermon XXVII:  The Advent Collects IV.
by John Keble
(From four sermons on the collects summing up catechizing 
after the 2nd lesson at the Evening Service.)
found in
Sermons for the Christian Year:  Advent to Christmas Eve
S. MATT. viii. 25.
“His disciples came unto Him, and awoke Him,
saying, Lord, save us we perish.”

IN the three first Advent collects we look on distinctly to the Day of Judgement, the final Coming of our Lord, and we beseech Him to prepare us for it.  In the collect for the first Sunday, we ask Him in general that we may be ready; the works of darkness cast away, and the armour of light put on.  In the second collect, we beseech God to bless us in our use of Holy Scripture, as one of the chief helps which He has given to bring us to heaven.  In the third, we speak to Him of the holy ministry, the succession of Bishops and priests in His Church, and pray that it may prosper in the work whereunto He ordained it, i.e. the conversion of men’s hearts, that we may he found “an acceptable people at His second Coming to judge the world.” All these petitions you see refer expressly to that second Coming.  But this which is appointed for the fourth and last week in Advent takes rather a different tone.

It speaks, not so much of a future deliverance which the faithful hope for at the end of the world, but of relief wanted immediately, from urgent, overwhelming distress.  “O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power and come among us, and with great might succour us.” As if the Almighty had, as it were, gone to sleep, and left us for a time to ourselves: as He did once go to sleep in a vessel, on the sea of Galilee, and when a great storm rose, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full, the disciples came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we perish: carest Thou not that we perish ?“ Upon which our gracious Lord arose, and “rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still; and the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” That short, and earnest prayer of the Apostles, “Lord, save us, we perish,” is the very pattern of a prayer for a Christian man to use when troubles and temptations come thick upon him, so that he scarcely knows which way to turn.  It is a good prayer for the whole Church, in the time of persecution, decay, or distress.  She knows that her Lord is with her; for He has promised to be with her always.  So far the Christians of all times are like the Apostles.  But as He was asleep, so it often seems to our timid eyes and minds, as if He had forsaken us, and were gone to sleep: and then we naturally betake ourselves to earnest prayer, as the Apostles did, “Lord, save us, we perish:”  “O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us.”  It is not only a prayer, but a cry; the cry of helpless creatures, in overpowering distress and anguish, to Him Who alone can help and deliver them.  It answers to the cry of the Israelites by the shore of the Red Sea, the sea before and the Egyptians behind; to the prayer of Jonah when he was in the whale’s belly, when he said, “I am cast out of Thy sight; yet will I look again,” just once more will I look again, “toward Thy holy temple.” (Jonah ii. 4.)

It is like Hezekiah’s prayer in his sore sickness, when he seemed at the point of death: " 0 Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me:” (Isa. xxxviii. 14.) or still more is it like the sharp and eager cries of many who came to our Lord, as their only hope of healing from violent or wasting complaints, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief:” (S. Mark ix. 24.)  “Lord, come down ere my child die:” (S. John iv. 49.) “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean:” (S. Matt. viii. 2.) “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (S. Matt. xvii. 13.)  These, and many more outcries of those who came to our Lord in distress are in effect the same as the collect for this week: they are petitions, “that He would raise up His power, and come among us, and with great might succour us.”  That is what we pray for: and the time seems long to us, because of our great need; as it seemed long to the children of Israel in the wilderness; as it seemed long, no doubt, to Jonah whilst he waited in the whale’s belly; to Martha and Mary, while Christ tarried, and did not come directly to heal their brother Lazarus; and to S. Peter after his denial, until he saw his Lord again, thoroughly to humble himself, and to turn that way ever after.  Just so the time seems long both to the bereaved Church, and to particular Christians in affliction.  The souls of the martyrs, pleading for the Church, cry out, “Lord, how long dost Thou not avenge her cause?”

So the afflicted agonizing Christian calls out, “O Lord, make haste to help me.” But here the question might well arise; How comes all this pain, and distress, this fear and anxiety in the Church, now for so many years the chosen and happy Bride of Christ? and how is it that Christian people, long since baptized and put in reach of so high graces, find themselves yet in so great straits? Why, the collect itself gives the answer.  It is, “through our manifold sins and wickedness.” Our sins, and nothing else, are the cause, why we are “sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us.” It is our own sins then, my brethren, from which we ask to be delivered; and that speedily.  Whether we consider the whole Church or the soul of each one of us in particular; our sin is so great an evil, and we so frail and helpless, that we know not how to be delivered from it, except by Christ’s coming especially, by His grace and providence, to deliver us.  For this therefore the Church has instructed us to pray, now that we are so near the very hour of His first coming.

That our prayer may not be in vain, let us think a little, how it is, that the sins and wickedness of Christians do so hinder them in their Christian task, in doing God’s work, and running His race.  It does not always seem so to themselves.  On the contrary, when a man is in the way of indulging any one bad desire, which has come to be a favourite with him, he is apt to fancy that he does not go on the worse for it in other respects.  The angry, the covetous, the proud and vain, nay oftentimes even the dishonest and the unclean, not only say, but really think, that they are in earnest in their devotions, and that on the whole they are getting on, in the way towards heaven.  But it is not so; it cannot be so indeed.  Our sins and wickedness really do hinder us.  Any one of them, if willfully indulged; is enough to stop us altogether, and even those which come upon us by surprise, those which we are ashamed of and strive against, are all in their measure sore lets and hindrances to us; and the further men get on in the way of goodness, so much the more do they feel this, so much the more do they grieve even for their lesser and more pardonable sins.

Good and sincere people know this very well.  But even the ordinary sort may know it, if they will.  I will try and put it before you by a plain example.  Suppose one should go to any person who is leading an irregular indevout life; irregular, I mean, in his duties towards God, making no point of going to Church, and quite neglecting Holy Communion.  If one should go to such a man, and ask him about himself, he might perhaps begin to answer about his distance from Church, his worldly troubles, his much business, or the like.  But, in the end, it would be sure to come out, that it is some sin which is hindering him: he is often provoked to anger, or tempted to take dishonest or unclean liberties, or at any rate his worldly cares haunt and trouble him; he cares too much for this world, to say his prayers in earnest to God; and for these causes he cannot serve God aright.  The waiting on Church and Communion are the race set before him, but these sins and wickednesses hinder him from running it.  Thus you see, the collect speaks the truth, when it lays the chief part of the blame of each man’s imperfection on himself.  It is not outward things, but our own unmortified desires, which let and hinder us from running our Christian race.  We are not so good as we ought to be, because we do not earnestly desire to be so.  If we would open our hearts to the good thoughts, which Almighty God from time to time puts into them: if we would let those drops of heavenly dew sink deep; if we would refresh and renew them by prayer; the difference would very soon appear in our conduct.  The evil is great; but how thankful ought we to be, that the remedy is, by God’s mercy, in our own hands.  Why should not each one of us, this very evening, begin to apply that remedy? What should hinder us, first of all, from joining with all our hearts in the collect which will presently be offered up, in which we are to beseech God that, in consideration of His Son’s being born among us and of our being new born into Him, He would daily renew us with His Holy Spirit? If we ask Him heartily so to raise up His power, and come among us and with great might succour us, without all doubt He will do so.  Of all evenings in the year, this Christmas Eve is not the one, in which our good Lord will turn away from the prayer of any poor penitent, or of any one who but desires to be a penitent.  The Angels, we know, came down on Christmas night, to rejoice with us, and teach us to rejoice at the wonderful Incarnation and Birth of our Divine Saviour; and we trust that they are not far from the hymns and carols of good Christian people, indoors, and out of doors, even on this very night.  Now they are the same Angels, of whom the Truth has told us, “There is joy in their presence” and among them, “over one sinner that repenteth.”  If then in any house, where the Christmas bells or Christmas carols are heard to-night, there be any person, who is in earnest grieved and wearied with the burthen of his sins, whatever those sins have been: let such an one look up and lift up his head, when he hears the joyful sound, let him take it as a sure token that the Lord is even now raising up His power, and coming to him, in His great and loving might, to succour him against those sins, which he now feels to have so sadly hindered him in running the race which was set before him.  Let him make sure that the blessed Angels, who are even now keeping Christmas with us, are rejoicing in these his devout fears and misgivings: and not the Angels only, but the God of the Angels, the Blessed Babe Himself, Who this night laid Himself for us all in the lowly manger.  As surely as He was conceived at Nazareth and born at Bethlehem, so surely will He help and deliver us, and that speedily, if we do but go on sincerely desiring and striving and praying to be delivered from our sins.  He will help each one of us, and He will help His whole Church, now of a long time divided and distressed for no other reason, but that Christians will not be good.

With thoughts like these, let us go home, examine ourselves, say our prayers, and lie down on our beds; and when we awake on Christmas morning, let us endeavour to go back to these same good thoughts: and so on morning by morning.  He will speedily help and deliver us: to us it may seem slowly, but by and by all our trials will seem to have lasted but the twinkling of an eye, if once, by His inconceivable mercy, we may be admitted to His Eternal Joy.