Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1935.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for the day directs and expresses our aspirations in preparation for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord. It begins with supplication, "O Lord, raise up we pray thee thy power and come among us, and with great might succour us." It continues with penitence, "whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us." It ends with hope, "thy bountiful grace may speedily help and deliver us." Through supplication, penitence and hope we approach the day upon which the Saviour was born.
The state of penitence is the state of self-knowledge. God in His mercy leads us gradually into this self-knowledge. The ascending degrees of penitence are measured for us. God never gives us more than we can bear. We begin with a very imperfect attrition in which the motive is self-regard, and the ruling passion is fear. It is imperfect, but it serves a purpose if it leads to the discovery that sin is a missing of the mark; that it is a mistake; so very far is it from being a natural form of self-expression that it lets and hinders us from the running of the race that is set before us; that we miss the goal of the expression of our best selves. Yet, if self-expression at our best is the final goal, we are still in a state of imperfect penitence, because we are still in a state of self love. Self love is always haunted by fear. But at least we may be on the way.
God leads us on this way into deeper knowledge, through failures which shatter self-confidence. It is strange that we should need such a schooling. But we do. We are not naturally inclined to take our temptations seriously until we have learned better. We are apt to be quite confident that we can overcome them—when we want to. But when? Why anytime. It is only a matter of self control. But is it? Are we sure that it is nothing more than that? Later on we find out. Temptations become persistent and tyrannous, and at last devastating. At last we discover that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
In that terrifying moment we are ready to cry, "O Lord, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us." There is no human deliverer. There is no natural deliverance. The Saviour for whom we must look must be none other than the only-begotten Son of God: Begotten of his Father before all worlds. For us men and for our salvation, He must come down from heaven. This is the Divine Saviour.
In this spirit of supplication, penitence and hope we adore the Incarnate God on Christmas Day. "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father."
Without presumption we may repeat the words of the Blessed Mother, "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." This is the joy of Christmas.
Affectionately in Our Lord,