First Sunday in Advent 2020

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

In 1744, Charles Wesley penned these familiar words to this powerful Advent hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”  Second only in popularity to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” this hymn ushers the Church into Advent by reminding us of the long awaited return of Jesus. In fact, Advent is a looking forward with expectation of that time when Jesus will return and looking back at a journey to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. Both sentiments find voice in this powerful hymn.

Charles Wesley was captured by the words of Haggai 2:7:  “And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.”  After reflecting on this text, Wesley began to imagine what the birth of the Christ child might mean to his community, indeed, to the entire world. In England in the mid 1700’s many were suffering in hunger and poverty. Children were abandoned and left as orphans. There were class distinctions, and slavery was on the rise. To Wesley, it seemed little had changed in the 1700 years since Christ was born. In fact, he wondered if humanity had improved at all.

In spite of the bleakness of the conditions around Wesley, a thread of hope began to emerge in his mind as he thought of Jesus’ birth.  He found himself hoping for the return of Christ, likening that thought to the expectation of Haggai as he looked forward to the birth of Christ. In that hope, he penned the expectant words of this hymn.

1. 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.

2.      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 understood the power of the Christ to set people free. Jesus is the fulfilling of prophecy and the answer to the problems all persons know, as well as to the world. The hymn embraced both the loving nature of Christ and the power of that love to deliver the world from sin. Ultimately, it was the love of Christ that would change us into being more Christ like.

The year 2020 has been a year of waiting.  And while we wait expectantly for some semblance of normalcy—in respect to the pandemic of Covid-19, the healing of relationships due to systemic racism, political divisions in the land—we are reminded in the lectionary texts for the Season of Advent that wilderness is a part of the journey to Bethlehem. John the Baptist quotes Isaiah in John 1:23, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

We have felt some sense of wilderness this year. Sometimes our wilderness is of our own making.  At other times wilderness visits us and thrusts us into an unfamiliar place emotionally and sometimes physically. In that space, we hold on to one another even when we are distanced. We love each other well by distancing and mask-wearing. We stay connected via Zoom, texts, calls, Face Time, and FaceBook live. We trust that God is with us. We trust that God is calling us to a deeper walk in this wilderness time.

We pray, come thou long expected Jesus. Let our hearts rest in thee. Deliver us. Free us from the chains that bind us. Fill us with love that conquers. Let power and love combine to free us from fear and anxiety. Let us live with holiness of heart and life.

Advent is a season of waiting. It is the metaphor for 2020. We are waiting, Lord.

Come, now.

Free us.

Make us whole.

Let us live with great expectation for a world that is healing in body, mind                      and spirit.

Advent Peace,

Bill McAlilly

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, United Methodist Hymnal No. 196, 1989.

[1]Collins, Ace (2006). “13: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”. More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas. Zondervan. p. 102ISBN 0-310-26314-X.