Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 1941.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for today, the Fourth Sunday in Advent, is our final prayer of preparation for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord. It is the expression of the spirit of Advent penitence. “Repent ye; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
This is the disposition with which we approach the mystery of the holy Nativity. The way and means by which and through which we deepen repentance is to examine our lives and conversations by the rule of God’s commandments; and whereinsoever we shall perceive ourselves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there to bewail our sinfulness, and to confess ourselves to Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life. So we arrive at self-knowledge. The deeper our self-knowledge, the deeper will be our desire for the coming of Our Lord.
True penitence makes us humble. Humility enables us to see ourselves as we are. True penitence teaches us that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. True penitence moves us to turn to God. True penitence moves us to faith in God. True penitence moves us to pray, “O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom with Thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end.”
At this point the Epistle brings us the final note of Advent. “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful (be anxious) for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
So we are led toward Bethlehem. Joy. Prayer. Thanksgiving. These are the dispositions with which we approach the Manger. Joy in the Lord because He is at hand. Prayer to make known our requests. Thanksgiving because the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
We who are living so long after the event of the Holy Nativity are not separated from it by time or space. The abiding Eucharistic Presence of Our Lord unites us with Him in His mysteries.
At Christmas the Altar is our Bethlehem where we shall find the Young Child. We are as truly near Him as we would have been if we had worshipped with the shepherds. When we receive Him in Holy Communion we are receiving Him into our arms to offer Him the shelter of the Manger of our hearts. We are to remember that we are in Communion with Him as we observe the ceremonies of His Festival. That we are in Communion with Him through the day, in domestic joys. That whatever our circumstances may be, or wherever we may be, we are very members incorporate in His mystical body.
We are to remember that in Him we are members of the blessed company of all faithful people throughout the world. And within that company the company which God has given to each, the company of the dearest and the best, in the body or out of the body, in this world or in the next. In Holy Communion, though altars may be far apart, we meet in Bethlehem.
Together we adore the Holy Child. The peace of God, which passeth all understanding keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Affectionately in Our Lord,