"Sore let and hindered" in the closing days of Advent

From the collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

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 ...

It is Cranmer's adaptation of the traditional collect dating back to the Gelasian Sacramentary.  The traditional collect is retained in the Latin BCP 1560:

Excita, quæsumus Domine, potentiam tuam et veni, et magna nobis virtute succure, ut per auxilium gratiam tuæ, quod nostra peccata præpediunt, indulgentia tuæ miserationis acceleret ...

Instantly noticeable is Cranmer's decision to abandon the 'Excita'/'Stir up' opening which had been characteristic of the traditional collects for all four of the Sundays in Advent.  Cranmer's reworking of the Advent collects meant that this characteristic was replaced with other distinctives, while the decision to move a 'Stir up' opening to the Sunday Next Before Advent ensures that the collect for this Sunday is marked out, a deeply resonant way of heralding the approach of Advent.

It is not this, however, that has particularly caught my attention this year in the praying of the Advent IV collect.  Rather, it is the phrase "we are sore let and hindered".  This is an adaptation of the traditional collect, which would be literally rendered "hindered by our sins".  Part of Cranmer's reasoning was probably a characteristically Reformed emphasis on the consequences of sin: "hindered" being taken as perhaps falling somewhat short of communicating that we are "very far gone from original righteousness".

This being so, "sore let and hindered" better emphasises how deep is the wound of sin and, thus, how great is our need of the Advent hope.  We are not just hindered, able to hobble through.  We are "sore let and hindered": greatly weighed down, obstructed, encumbered.  We need the Advent hope to "speedily help and deliver us", to purify and restore us through the great and final eschatological judgement.  As Advent draws to a close, then, the Church's yearning for the Lord's second Advent does not lessen but is deepened through this collect.

Alongside this, there may also be a deeply resonant reference to the first Advent in the same phrase: "sore let".  Cranmer would, of course, have known the 1539 Great Bible's translation of the response of the shepherds to the angelic host (Luke 2:9):

they were sore afrayed.

This translation was retained in both the Bishops' Bible (1568) and the Authorized Version (1611).  The shepherds were "sore afraid" and we are "sore hindered", both standing in need of the Christmas proclamation.  In the words of the Great Bible:

For beholde, I bringe you tydinges of greate ioye, that shall come to all people: for vnto you is borne this daye in the cytie of Dauid, a saueoure which is Christ the Lord.

The collect's reminder that we are "sore let" - with its echo of the response of the shepherds - therefore not only orients us towards the Lord's second Advent, but also His first, the celebration of which is but days away as we pray the collect.  As the collect is prayed in the closing days of Advent, it prepares us - who are "sore let" -  to celebrate the Nativity, to do that which shepherds - "sore afraid" - did:

The shepherdes sayde one to another: let vs go now euen vnto Bethlehem, and se this thing that we heare saye is happened, which the Lorde hath shewed vnto vs. And they came wt hast, & founde Mary and Ioseph & the babe layde in a manger.

Tomorrow morning, at Mattins of Christmas Eve, we will pray for the final time this year the collect of Advent IV.  We will acknowledge that we are "sore let and hindered", taking our place alongside those "sore afraid" shepherds.  And so, with them, we will be prepared to receive the great, glad tidings set forth in Scripture and Crib, Carol and Sacrament as we celebrate the Lord's Nativity, addressing us all, "sore let and hindered" and "sore afraid", calling us out of the world's long, dark winter.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth - from the Gospel appointed for Christmas Day.

Until "the last day, when he shall come again in glorious Majesty", the celebration of Christmas is thus a grace-filled answer to the opening petition of the collect used in these final days of Advent:

O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us.


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