From the Collect: "Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light."
Matthew Hopkins was only 24 years old, when he embraced the title "Witch-Finder General." East Anglia in 1644 was the heartland of English Puritanism. In the 1630s many Puritans from East Anglia sailed to Massachusetts Bay Colony seeking opportunity to express their faith with greater "purity" unencumbered by the what they perceived as too much Catholic form and spirituality that persisted in the Church of England.
Hopkins career lasted only three years, from 1644 to 1647. But he was remarkably successful -- and infamous. In the three hundred years that England was intent on hunting down and putting to death witches, 500 unfortunate women lost there lives. It is estimated that Matthew Hopkins alone is responsible for the deaths of 300 women whose true crime was not witchcraft, but more likely of having a mind of one's own.
Each of these women were executed in the name of 'righteousness."
In prayer we acknowledge we need "grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light." Why do we need grace for such a work?
First, the works of darkness as become familiar to us. We don’t readily recognize works of darkness in our own lives. The closer they are too us, the more familiar and comfortable they feel. The Witch-Finder General had himself convinced that he doing God's work with every woman he executed.
Second, it seems that we are ever so eager to cast away the works of darkness in other people. We are less able to address where the works of darkness are at work in us. We become intent of reforming the lives of others -- as was the Witch-Finder General. This in itself becomes a compounding "word of darkness" as we judge and condemn others in the blindness of our own self-righteousness.
Finally, we pray for "grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light" because when we become obsessed with the works of darkness we no longer see the light.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent (Mark 13:24-37) relates the image of the end of time when Jesus returns to judge the world. "Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the Earth to the ends of heaven."
Note that JESUS will send out his angels to gather "his elect" from the ends of the Earth. Jesus does not send Matthew Hopkins. Jesus does not send Kevin Phillips. And Jesus does not send YOU.
For this reason we pray for grace to cast away the works of darkness. The casting away of the works of darkness is a great work of God's grace that God accomplishes in us. God does not need us to go about casting away the works of darkness in one another.
Our job is to put on the armor of light and always greet one another with an attitude of humility, grace, and love.