Tuesday, December 10

Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus [Charles Wesley 1744]

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 begins the first three lines with "Born."  
They move from why? (Thy people to deliver)
To a  paradox (a child and yet a king)
To where his kingdom begins (born to reign in us forever)

Each of these deserves a paragraph.  Theologians from the beginning have wondered how Jesus' birth connects to our deliverance.  Perhaps Wesley would not think of it in these terms, but I reflect on my own life and see that many times when I am concerned for someone I reach out to them in writing (email or an actual note).  Maybe we could equate that with scripture.  Sometimes I know I need to call them.   Perhaps this would equate with those moments when we know we have encountered God -- we have a moment of deeper transformation and understanding and it changes the trajectory of our life.  And sometimes I know I need to drop everything and go.  I know that love compels me to be personally present to the one I love so I set aside all other distractions and go to be with them in their moment of joy or despair.  The incarnation of God's love in the christ-child can be understood as a time when God knew that what was needed was a personal presence.  As the ancient creed teaches us, "For us and for our salvation [Jesus] came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human" (taken from the Nicene Creed).  This is the quintessential expression of the salvation oracles we find in scripture, "Fear not, for I am with you!"

Though Jesus enters history as an infant - his coming unambiguously portents "regime change."  The word we translate as Messiah is from the Hebrew and it means "anointed one."  This term was a political term used to indicate the authority given to kings.  And in case we are still unsure of the political implications of the arrival of this baby, let us remember that when he taught us to pray he taught us "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," and further, to conclude our prayers, "for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever!"  This can be heard as "Thine is the kingdom - not Rome, not the Babylonians, not the Egyptians, not even Solomon's kingdom - but God's kingdom and God's power, and God's glory forever.  As much as I abhor the murder of infants decreed by Herod in Matthew chapter 2 . . . it is clear that Herod understood the implications of Jesus' birth even if others did not.

Wesley's hymn highlights the hope that Jesus' kingdom will begin in the hearts of those who believe.  He is born to reign in us for ever.  So, as it turns out the "regime change" is not just for the Herods of the world, but is a regime change within each one of us.  We, too, are called to ceed our autonomy over to God, to stop pretending we can be an independently successful person, and to start living with God at the center of our very selves.  Indeed, when you study the prophets and consider God's most frequent complaint it is precisely that we have refused to let God be God and have assumed that we could have a life worth living apart from God.
This Advent let us ponder the love of God which is so urgently felt that God drops everything to "come down," and dwell among us full of grace and truth.  Let us consider wether we are the height of hypocrisy and irony when we pray the Lord's prayer without considering the profound implications it makes about our own autonomy and sense of self.

Daily Collect:
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.  Amen

Paul Lang