Let us prepare a dwelling place
This is the last in a series of meditations on three Advent collects. Here are the meditations on the collects for Advent I and Advent III. These meditations were given as part of an Advent quiet day at St. Stephen’s, Providence, RI.
The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Perhaps it is because the Fourth Sunday of Advent is focused on St. Mary and the Annunciation, but the word “visitation” in this collect calls to my mind the joyful visitation of St. Mary to St. Elizabeth, when St. John the Baptist leaped for joy. Not all visitations are as joyful as that one, and perhaps there is not so much exuberance in the kind of visitation we are praying about here.
It is worth pondering how God might purify our consciences by daily visitation. Surely, God can come into our minds and form our consciences whenever God wishes to do this. I wonder though if something more earthy isn’t being spoken of here.
I find my conscience is often purified by visitation, and not just by God. If I see a friend or even a stranger whom I have wronged, their very presence calls to mind what I have done wrong, and it provokes in me a desire to make amends. Sometimes the push for purification is even more subtle.
For several years, Sherilyn (my spouse) and I lived in a delightful, very old house in Seekonk. We decided to replace a light fixture in our entrance hall, but in the midst of this work, we came upon some wiring problems. For most of the time we lived in the that house, instead of light in the hall, there was instead a hole in the ceiling with a nest of wires poking out. We got so used to it that we stopped seeing it. Not only did the wires poking through the hole not bother us, but we literally didn’t see them any more. Until.
Every time we were going to have guests over, as we were getting the house ready, I would look at the tangle of wires and think that I needed to do something, to fix that tangle of wires. Our guests might not have noticed, and if they did, no one ever said anything. My impetus for fixing the light fixture was not to escape the wrath of visitors, but rather rooted in my desire to be a good host.
While God’s judgement is far above my pay grade — though I am confident there’s a lot of mercy and probably some wrath now and again — I do think that one of the ways our consciences might be purified is our own desire to be right when we meet God.
And we do meet God.
Here at church, we meet God in Word and Sacrament. We see the Body of Christ in the gathered Church. These things might offer daily visitations for us. But of course, it’s not only in church that we meet Jesus Christ. The 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel tells us that whenever we meet the hungry or the thirsty or the stranger or the naked or the sick or the prisoner, we are meeting Jesus Christ. How we care for them is how we care for Jesus himself. In this city, we know this kind of daily visitation. Surely our consciences have been pricked, if not purified, by our daily encounters with Christ himself.
Visitation. Once, long ago in ancient Bethlehem, St. Mary and St. Joseph were visitors, looking for a place to rest. There was no room, no house, and most certainly no mansion. The language of the collect is poignant here. Talk about a purified conscience! We pray that when he “cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.”
What would it take for us to prepare our hearts, our lives, our very being — to prepare a mansion for our Savior? What would it take for us to have a mansion that is really ready, without thick clumps of wire poking out from holes in the ceiling — broken things in our lives that we may not see any more? Surely, we need quite a few days’ worth of daily visitations to purify of conscience. But wait! Though I believe the collect intends us to think primarily of the Second Coming, we simply pray to be ready for Our Lord when he cometh. And maybe that is our guide.
Perhaps in preparing ourselves to receive the Sacrament, to hear the Word, to welcome the stranger, to visit to the prisoner — perhaps in doing all these things, we are making ready to greet Jesus not only when he is manifest in our earthly pilgrimage, but when he comes in glory.
If our hearts are full of anger, full of fear, full of greed, full of hardness, we will find it difficult to prepare our mansion. This Advent season, we might try to make mansions in our hearts by opening them up with love, with hope, with gratitude, with grace. Let us pray fervently for grace to prepare a dwelling place in which we may welcome Christ.
Photo by yours truly shows a pilgrim meditating at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.