Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
For the next four weeks we shall be concentrating our thoughts and prayers upon the Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We shall be preparing ourselves for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord.
The Collect for today provides us with the outline for our thoughts during Advent, and the particular points for our prayers. (1) "Give us grace." What is grace?
The word means a free gift from God. We cannot earn it. It is a gift. We cannot deserve it, for it depends not upon our merits, but upon God's mercy. Without grace we are helpless so far as spiritual things are concerned. We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. We have no power in our natural selves to liberate ourselves from the chains which bind us to the animal world. We have no power in ourselves to subdue the flesh to the spirit; nor to discern the spiritual things which must be spiritually discerned; nor can we impel our minds to good counsels; nor our wills to the things that are good.
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights." All holy desires, all good counsels and all good works come from God. They are the fruits of grace. They are the free gifts of God. So our first Advent prayer is for grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light.
But how does this grace come? Who gives it to us? The Collect answers this question. God's son Jesus Christ comes to visit us in great humility. This is the Coming, the Advent of Him by whom grace and truth came into the world upon the first Christmas Day, and into the souls of each of us, please God, on Christmas Day and every day when we receive Holy Communion, and are filled by Him with grace and heavenly benediction. In each Communion we go to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, the Bread of Life, the Bread that cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof and not die.
The Collect ends by teaching us to pray, "that in the last day when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, now and ever." So an alleluia of anticipation rings softly through Advent.
But there can be no doubt as to the clear warning which is the burden of the Advent call to repentance. "Owe no man anything but to love one another; for he that loveth another bath fulfilled the law. For this thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet."
Will the world obey? Not as a whole world. It never has. There is no promise that it ever will. The night will spend itself. The rioting and drunkenness, the chambering and wantonness, the strife and envying will continue till the night is spent. But throughout all the night, the Voice will be heard by those who have ears to hear, "Cast off the works of darkness, put on the armour of light. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
Will the world as a whole listen in this year of grace? Is the world as we know it really different in disposition from the world as it was in the days of St. John Baptist? If it is different, if it is better, then it has been made different and better by those who have used the grace given through Our Lord, and who have cast off the works of darkness and who have put on the armour of light.
Affectionately in Our Lord,