Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1934.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
We are within one day of the Eve of the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord. Before this letter reaches some of you, Christmas will have come. The Collect is a prayer that He may come to us in the power of His grace and mercy, to help and deliver us from the sins and wickedness which hinder us in running the race which is set before us.
It is a wonderful Collect. It is charged with penitence, humility, faith and hope. It is a prayer of eager aspiration and longing for Our Lord. To say this about it may seem to exalt the prayer beyond our powers to use it. But it really makes a very easy demand upon us. The prophets and their devout followers, who waited and looked so long for Our Lord's coming, really did have heroic faith.
But we are living in His Church in His year of 1934. We have had our chance to know his power and his great might to succour us. Times without number we have at first-hand experienced his bountiful grace and mercy which have helped and delivered us. We have perceived the fruits of redemption within us of Sacramental grace. We have known answers to our prayers, far better and beyond our asking. We have recognized God's providence patiently overruling our ignorant and reckless self-will. We have had reasons beyond our telling for knowing that life is satisfying with Him and desolate without Him. We know what it means to be set free by absolutions and to receive Him in Communion.
Each Communion has been a Christmas. When we celebrate the Festival of the Nativity we are giving thanks for what we have already received. Our penitence deepens our sense of being sore let and hindered in our spiritual progress, and at the same time it spurs us on to more vehement prayer for speedy help and deliverance, and to more fervent use of the means of grace. So when the Christmas Communion comes round in the cycle of the Christian Year we find ourselves receiving It with more devotion each year, if the year since the preceding Christmas has taught us wisdom. And how could it fail to do this, if we have followed on from Bethlehem.
The Christian Year commemorates historic facts. These facts reveal the relations of God. to man. The facts of human life cannot be understood nor endured successfully unless they are interpreted by the light of the Incarnate life. That life, and that life alone, is the light of men. In the Manger of Bethlehem, and on the Cross of Calvary shines the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. This Light proceeds from a Life. The Life is the Light. We cannot be separated from the Life and have the Light. This is the reason why what one is, depends upon what one believes. We can only be by believing. The Commemorations of the Christian Year keep the facts concerning the life in devotional remembrance. In the light of the life it becomes possible for us to see God as He is, and ourselves as we are and as God wills us and will enable us to become.
Our moral sense depends upon our belief. From our belief comes the moral sense which enables us to become aware of our sins and wickedness. From this sense of sin proceeds our sense of the need of penitence. From penitence proceeds our sense of dependance upon God for help and deliverance. From this desire for deliverance proceeds the spirit of supplication expressed in the Collect for today. It is this spirit of penitent supplication which leads us to Bethlehem to adore the Saviour which is Christ the Lord.
The message of great joy announced by the angel is the declaration of the fact of the Saviour's birth. From the knowledge of this fact proceeds all our lesser human joys. The worst of us can be forgiven. The last of us can be saved. The least of us are worth saving. The most hopeless of us can be reconstructed. We are debtors no longer to the flesh. Grace is stronger than nature. Former things are passed away. All things are made new. This is the joy which distinguishes the Christian Christmas from the pagan Yuletide.
Affectionately in Our Lord,