Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;
and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
I thought this collect from the Book of Common Prayer was both hopeful and sobering. This Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent, and it asks God to stir up His power and come among us with great might. Now many Christians would say that is a good thing, and I firmly believe it is, but think of it. What would you do if God stirred up His power and came among your fellowship? Would you welcome him, or would your experience be much like that of Saul, later the Apostle Paul, (pictured here by the Renaissance artist Carvaggio), when he encountered Christ in His power on the road to Damascus.
And the ironic thing is that Saul thought he was serving God by persecuting the Church. Saul was persuaded that what he was doing was right, that this new sect was a heresy that needed to be stamped out. He says in his zeal, he had a hand in the deaths of Christians.
But God stirred up his power and came mightily into Saul's life, and it was never the same. Would our lives have the same response? Would God knock us off the course we think we are supposed to be following and show us His true direction? Or are we in a relationship with Him that he can whisper and we know what to do?
In my own life, I often find myself stumbling across the will of God. I am actually surprised by the ways the Lord shows up in my life. I don't think it should be that way, but that is the way that it is. Often I do not have more of God in my life because I am afraid of what He will ask of me. I am afraid of losing control. But I believe that God knows that, and is working in me to bring me to a place of trust, where I am no longer afraid.
Andrew Murray wrote that while God demands our absolute surrender, He is also the one who is working in us to bring that about. And think of it: the one to whom we are surrendering is love Himself, the Beautiful One who created everything beautiful you can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. All that is beautiful finds its source in Him. And he had demonstrated His love for us in sacrificing His Son for us.
At the same time, He is the Holy One, the one who created all that is by the word of His power - that same power this collect asks Him to stir up. Have you ever stood by a volcano or watched the supernova of a star? It is an unbearable, traumatic, exciting event that makes you feel very small. And God's power is light years beyond that.
But we have hope in that the High and Holy One took on flesh and "moved into the neighborhood" as Eugene Peterson writes in The Message. And Jesus is called a faithful high priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. So we can ask Him to "let His bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us" and trust that He will.