It’s cold. I know, people laugh at those of us who live in this warm part of the country because cold to us a daytime temperature just below 60 degrees, with nights hovering just at or slightly below freezing. Plus, these “cold” temperatures usually don’t arrive in Arizona until after the new year. This year they started dropping October. Don’t get me wrong; I’d far rather add blankets and mittens than wonder what clothes I can take off in extreme hot weather. Somehow, it’s more fun to have a cold Christmas than lukewarm, at 70-80 degrees.
It is hard to believe that tomorrow is the third Sunday of Advent already. I keep checking the calendar to ensure I haven’t skipped a Sunday or two since Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I will know for certain, when I will hear the familiar collect,
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come
among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver
us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and
the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, 211)
Those words make me smile, reminding me of a tradition back home. Our pre-Christmas kitchen always felt warmer than the rest of the house, from from frequent baking sessions. They smelled pleasantly of wide varieties of cookies, pies, and other treats. Hearing “Stir up…” in church would remind me to start baking, had I not started already. Too late for fruitcakes, though, as they need time to baste in the brandy, but for all else, there would still be time. How lovely to come home from school and walk into the kitchen and smell sugar cookies, gingerbread men, Danish cookies rich with butter, and all sorts of flavorings and spices! We would eat pumpkin pie at Christmas, but added alongside another – apple (old fashioned or Dutch), pecan, or my particular favorite, mince. Some things (especially the cookies) would require additional batches to compensate for the depredations of the already-baked stock; just part of the holiday tradition.
The collect is not aimed at bakers and homemakers. It is directed at God to help clean up our messes far worse than busy kitchen with used cookie cutters, cake and pie pans, spatulas, rolling pins, big spoons, oven mitts, and colored sprinkles and sugars used to decorate. And, the collect reminds us that we cannot forgive our own sins or get past them, that we can be delivered and forgiven only through God’s grace, Jesus’s love, and the Spirit’s power.
We can’t always detect God’s stirring up of power, but then, we can’t always notice the particular flavor of vanilla or ginger in the cookies. Yet, we would surely notice their absence with a first tasting. God’s power can be so very subtle, but it is there, working like yeast or baking powder.
Perhaps the best part is that God’s power isn’t a commodity we purchase more of at the store. It is available whenever needed and requested. It simply requires us to ask for it, trust it will be given, and be thankful for its presence. It won’t be gone like store Christmas displays on Christmas Day, rained out, or otherwise ruined or canceled. It doesn’t require the Energizer Bunny or Diehard battery. It is there because God put it there, and because God loves us, we can access it anytime.
It’s time for me to get out the flour and other ingredients. Suddenly, I’m in the mood to bake, even though there will only be the two of us this Christmas. That’s okay; God’s still here with power that is still abundant, and Phoebe and I can have all the cookies and pie we want. God is not only powerful but discreet as well. Thank you, God!
Linda Ryan is a mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.