The Incarnation sends my heart and mind into orbit every year. That’s why I’m glad we have an entire season of the church calendar to reflect on it. There’s no way to fully plumb its depths with these finite minds of ours. I started writing some Christmas devotional pieces for later this month, and the waterworks have already begun. Good music only makes it worse. Often I can do little more than just put my pen down and throw my hands up in gratitude and awe. That God should become one of us in the person of Christ is sheer mystery wrapped in divine love. The same is true for the second coming of Christ, to which the season of Advent also points.
As we do every year, we’re singing Charles Wesley’s classic, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” to kick off the new church year. It would be difficult to find a better selection. Wesley wrote this Advent hymn and had it printed in his Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord in 1744. Like so many of his texts, this piece alludes to one or more Scripture passages in nearly every phrase. Moreover, the double nature of Advent is reflected in these lyrics, remembering Christ’s first coming even while anticipating his return.
Stanzas 1 and 2 (which form verse 1 in most of today’s hymnals) recall messianic prophecies from the Old Testament. Stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s birth and kingdom, and stanza 4 functions as a plea for Christ to rule in our hearts.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.
Wesley was the eighteenth child (and youngest son) of Samuel and Susanna Wesley. He was born at Epworth Rectory on December 18, 1707. In 1716 he went to Westminster School, being provided with room and board by his brother Samuel. He was an usher at the school until 1721, when he was elected King’s Scholar, resulting in free tuition and board. In 1726 he was elected to a Westminster studentship at Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his M.A. degree in 1729.
Charles wrote hundreds of poetic works with his brother John, the famous revivalist and founder of Methodism. His individual hymns number well over 5,000. Among his more famous today are:
1738 And Can It Be?
1739 Jesus, Lover of My Soul
1739 Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
1739 Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
1749 O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Which is your favorite? I for one could sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” every other Sunday and not get tired of it! Jesus was not only the child born to die, he was the child born to rise again! Charles Wesley himself was “raised” to Christ’s “glorious throne” on March 29, 1788. The Spirit of God left his mark on this servant, and he in turn left his mark on us.