With 52 Sundays in a year, give or take, and 52 sets of Scripture readings a year, and a Collect of the Day prescribed for each, it would make sense that more than a few would, for lack of a better word, be forgettable. After all, despite what Garrison Keillor may suggest, not every Sunday can be above average.
But there are Sundays that are significant and memorable. Easter Sunday tops the list, of course. But there are also themes that pop up from time to time that set particular Sundays apart from the rest. Transfiguration Sunday falls each year in Lent. On that day we mark the event when Jesus is transfigured and visited by Moses and Elijah as he prepares to begin his journey to the Cross.
There are Sundays that do not mark events as much as they mark themes in the readings. Good Shepherd Sunday falls each year on the fourth Sunday of Easter and highlights the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd,an important and comforting metaphor for our Lord.
Then there are Sundays like today that have a nickname of sorts. These nicknames usually come from the Collect of the Day, as does this particular Sunday. Today is known by the not so graceful name of “Stir Up Sunday,” as we began our worship with the words “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us….”
But the third Sunday in Advent has not always been Stir Up Sunday. All the way back to the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 there has been a collect beginning with the words, “Stir up,” but until recent years, the prayer was used on the last Sunday before the season of Advent.
This led to a peculiar practice in England where Christmas puddings are traditional fare. Recipes for Christmas puddings called for them to be mixed and rested for several weeks. It became common practice for cooks who attended church to hear on a Sunday just weeks before Christmas, the words “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,” With those words they would be reminded that it was time to stir up their Christmas puddings.
As handy as that tale is, I am sure the Church did not preserve this prayer as an annual reminder that it was time to start cooking for the holidays. So we are left to wonder just what the church has in mind for us to consider on this Stir Up Sunday.
Let us look more closely at what our prayer says, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us….” Just how does God stir up his power? Just how does God come among us with great might?
Well, surely God can perform miracles. The annals of our faith are replete with stories of God working powerfully and miraculously time and time again. I suspect that each of us, with due reflection, can think of times in our own lives when the hand of God has moved miraculously.
But miracles are not common. If they were, they would no be miracles now would they? Instead, the hand of God moves in many other ways in our lives. Again, just how does God stir up his power? Our Scriptures this morning tell us. More often than not God stirs up his power by bringing hope to the hopeless and grace and mercy to us all.
This morning we have a pivotal passage from Isaiah; one that sets forth the Gospel as clearly as any passage in the Old Testament. It is very well worth remembering that as Jesus stepped out of the mundane life as a 1st century Jew to embrace and begin his mission as the Messiah of God it was this passage he read in the synagogue. It was this passage that he chose to define his mission. This was the source of his inaugural address.
Because of this I believe it is also this passage that can tell us how God stirs up his power. He does so by anointing us to bring his good news to those without hope, to bring healing to those whose hearts are broken, to speak freedom to those in any sort of bondage, and liberty to any who feel trapped by life’s burdens; to tell forth the delight of the era of God’s mercy because God has brought his abiding comfort for every lament and every sorrow the cosmos has ever known.
How does God stir up his power and come among us with great might? By reminding us and empowering us, gifting us and challenging us with the great and honorable ministry to be his people in the world today. God’s power is stirred up when his people are stirred up to take his message of grace and mercy and hope to heart and to share such things in word and deed with every breath we breathe.
God’s power is stirred up when we take to heart the words we pray at the end of each Sunday service, when we seek to truly live into the words, “Open my mind and heart to discern what you would have me do….”
Stir up you power, O Lord, and with great might come among the people of St Paul’s that we may be a community of prayer and belonging, and practice a ministry of love and concern for others. Amen.