Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Collects - Second Sunday of Christmas

Bishop Eric Menees

This Sunday is January 5th, the 12th and last day of Christmas - did your true love give you twelve drummers drumming? Neither did my true love. However, on December 30th we managed to make it over to the coast to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary - what a blessing!

Anyhow, back to the task at hand: the collect for the Second Sunday of Christmas. To the best of my knowledge, which is not much,  Archbishop Cranmer did not write a collect for the Second Sunday of Christmas, trusting that the two collects for the Feast of the Incarnation - which he required to be read on each of the twelve days of Christmas - would suffice. Thus, the following collect was added to the 1928 BCP: ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The 1979 BCP changed the collect again.  I cannot speculate upon why they changed the collect, but one can see that with the 1979 BCP, a subtle but significant change in the theology of the Episcopal Church USA began to take shape. Rather than an emphasis upon the Birth of Jesus, the 1979 BCP places the emphasis on a restored dignity of humanity - moving the emphasis away from God and on to us. Here is the collect for this Sunday in the 1979 BCP:

Second Sunday after Christmas Day
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
It is true that God created all humanity (Genesis 1:26-27) in his "image and likeness," and that thus all people are deserving of respect and dignity. Respect for human life and dignity of every human being is a hallmark characteristic of Christianity, and not necessarily of other religions. However, it is important to remember that WE are NOT God, but only created in his likeness. Theologians have long pondered what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God, and most have come to the conclusion, as have I, that this means we are endowed by our Creator with certain attributes that come from God and separate us from the rest of creation. This list is in no way exhaustive, but for example: the ability to create - not just to build things, but artistic creation; intelligence - the ability to think of someone else beyond ourselves and to understand God's creation around us as he reveals it to us; self-sacrifice - giving of ourselves for a greater good, being willing to go beyond our families and kindred to sacrifice even our very lives for others who are innocent (think of the police officer or firefighter who runs into harms way for people they do not know); and perhaps most importantly, the ability to love as the Lord defined it in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
In so far as this collect leads us towards the fulfillment of what it means to be created in the image of God, I rejoice. However, I am also a bit fearful, because what many mainline denominations are leading toward is the false belief that we are divine, which is just not true. There is a Creator and the created, and we are part of the created - it is absolutely crucial for our salvation and our own human dignity to remember that fact. Yes, scripture teaches us that our bodies can be "the temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 6:19) for those who invite God the Holy Spirit in, but that is very different from being divine - the desire for which is at the root of the fall of both our first parents and ourselves. (Genesis 3)
 My prayer for you and myself this Second Sunday of Christmas, is that we will so embrace the Holy Spirit and the birth of Jesus, that our lives will daily reflect the Love, Grace, and Redemption found in that little child who was born so that he may die, and whose death was for our birth.

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+   

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