The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Advent can be a confusing season. At this holy time of year, not only are we looking backwards towards the birth of Christ, we are also looking forwards, to when the Son of God will come again. This duality of seeking Christ in the past as well as anticipating his return in the future is a theme echoed in our lessons for this morning. In the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah, the Lord says: “The days are surely coming…when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah….I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” Later, in the Gospel, Jesus points to the future when he says: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”
In truth, it’s a far sight easier to look backward with nostalgia than to peer forward into the unknown. And, let’s face facts: little babies; they are cute and cuddly, while the Son of God descending in power amidst troubling signs in the heavens, and distress among the nations can understandably cause us pause and consider if this really adds to our hopes for holiday cheer this time of year.
And yet, I suggest that the true hope of this season is found when we are disciplined in balancing our gratitude for the gift of the incarnation while at the same time preparing ourselves for the time in which our Savior will come again.
At our 10:00 a.m. worship this morning we will be participating in a service of Advent Lessons & Carols. Bear in mind, these hymns, they are markedly different than Christmas Carols. Advent is a season of hope, expectation and preparation—and the hymns we sing this holy time of year are replete with these themes.
With this in mind, I would like to speak, for a few moments, about one of the most familiar tunes associated with the season of Advent, written by Charles Wesley.
“Lo, He comes with clouds descending” uses events of the past to remind us of who we are in our faith, and to set a vision of what the future holds. It was first published in 1758, yet continues to speak to us over the centuries. If you would like to refer to the lyrics, it is Hymn 57 in your blue hymnal.
The theme of the hymn is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Revelation. It begins and ends with an exhortation to look to the coming reign of Jesus our King.
In this music we are reminded that we live in a kind-of middle time—a period after the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, yet before the great end-time in which God will bring all together in a new heaven and a new earth. This hymn challenges us to look forward to the return of Christ.
In truth, we’ve tamed the hymn a bit over the years. Here are a few verses that were originally written, but are not contained in the current rendition of the hymn found in our 1982 Hymnal:
Answer Thine own bride and Spirit,
Hasten, Lord, the general doom!
The new Heav’n and earth t’inherit,
Take Thy pining exiles home:
All creation, all creation,
Travails! Groans! And bids Thee come!
Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!
“Lo He comes with clouds descending” provides us with an excellent “orientation” to the season of Advent. It is filled with hope and expectation—but it is not sentimental. It has moved us out of the manger, into a world which continues to suffer from injustice, want and need—and therefore, in this, it calls us not only to prepare for the coming of a baby in a manger—but moreso to prepare for the second coming of Christ, who will right the wrongs in a world which continues to long for His appearing.
PLAY THE MUSIC FOR THE CONGREGATION.