A blessed Advent to all of you this first Thursday of Advent. I hope that this email finds you all well.
The devotions this Advent season are going to be based on Advent hymns. The one below is based off of Hymn 348 in our Lutheran Service Book: “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.” I hope you enjoy.
You may have noticed that many people, Christians included, often get this time of the church year confused with the season that comes after it. Advent calendars that count down until the new year, teach children that it’s a time to celebrate the old and welcome in the new – not something religious in nature. Homes all over Waterloo (mine included), all over the country, heck, all over the whole of Christendom, have been or soon will be, breaking out their Christmas ornaments and wrapping up their houses in lights and ribbons. I’m sure that many churches this past Sunday even brushed off their best Christmas music and started singing about our Saviour’s birth. But we’re not doing that here. Why?
Well…as you know, the Church year reflects both the whole of creation and also the life of Christ. It begins with the Season of Advent, this is the first part of the ‘Time of Christmas’. The word Advent is from the Latin, meaning “coming.” The story of Jesus in Advent is the story of hope coming into the world. As St Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” The Father didn’t send Him as soon as Adam and Eve fell, there was a wait – a long wait – which I talked about this past Sunday. It was only when the time was just right, that God sent His Son, Jesus, into our world. As we know from the teachings through the years, Jesus came to save the whole world from the powers of sin and death and He is the world’s only hope of salvation from these enemies. But Advent, this season that starts this whole year off, is a little different than the rest of the coming church year because right now, we are recognizing a time in the life of the world before Christ came. You could call this the Old Testament portion of the Church Year if you will.
Traditionally, this season has been closely linked with Lent in both feeling and purpose. It was a time of preparation. Why? Because we are sinful human beings who need to prepare for the coming of the infant Jesus in this world? Because if we weren’t such sinners Jesus would never have had to come down to earth, leaving heaven behind, in the first place? Well…yes, but as with many of God’s teachings, it has a secondary meaning that’s just as important as well. This season of preparation is a time of dual preparation. This dual reason for the season is explained very well in tonight’s office hymn: “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns”. (LSB 348)
Usually, the primary text for sermons is one of the three readings, and that is more than just a rule of thumb. Preaching a sermon not based on the Word of God is particularly fruitless. God speaks through His Word to change hearts, to forgive sins, to prepare the believer for His Son’s return. So, when I turn today, and for the rest of these midweek Advent Services to hymns, I hope you don’t think I’m pulling away from Scripture: Quite the opposite actually.
Each of the hymns I’ll be talking about these next few weeks find their roots buried deeply in the Word of God. Our hymnal does a good job pointing this out as there are scripture quotations listed at the bottom right of each hymn. These passages allow you to see the parts of the Bible that were either quoted in, or were the basis for, the hymn you’re singing. If you haven’t in the past, I encourage you to look them up in the future as it can be very enlightening and edifying. All the song we sing here in worship are based off of God’s Word and that’s what makes them so comforting and helpful. For the coming Advent season, I’m going to unpack a few of these hymns for you and explain in a little more depth their biblical roots, and the messages that they are teaching you from them.
And so, we turn to hymn 348 to see what the author has to teach us. The first three verses are what you would expect from a Christmas song:
1. The King shall come when morning dawns And light triumphant breaks, When beauty gilds the eastern hills And life to joy awakes.
This verse sings about Christ’s coming, and the joy that followed in His wake. The amazing deeds of that one little child, the God-son, who came and accomplished the impossible: the conquering of sin, death and the power of the devil. That’s what He came to do after all, that’s the whole point of that little manger scene that you see so often displayed this time of year. That little baby, came to earth to die: To die for you. It reminds me of the most powerful Christmas card I have ever received. The cover had a baby’s foot print, as they used to do at birth with the words: For unto you is born this day in the city of David…, and then on the inside was the hand print of a grown man with a blood stain in the middle of His palm followed by the words: A Saviour who is Christ the Lord!
This isn’t something we often think about at Christmas, is it? The truth is, it’s a topic we’re actually not very comfortable thinking about at all if we’re being honest. I still remember looking upon my children as babies, and the last thing I was thinking about was how they were going to die. Who could possibly think of death in the face of such fresh, new life? But this child, the one we prepare for the arrival of this season, isn’t just any child. He is God. And He came for a purpose.
2. Not as of old a little child, To bear and fight and die, But crowned with glory like the sun That lights the morning sky.
3. Oh, brighter than the rising morn When Christ, victorious, rose And left the lonesome place of death Despite the rage of foes.
As verses 2 and 3 remind us, the purpose of Christ’s coming was to bear our sins, and die in our place. He came to take on the punishment we deserve for our sins, and then conquer sin, death and the power of the devil by rising again in victory on that first Easter Sunday – “brighter than the rising morn,” as our hymn describes it.
But part of that purpose, that plan of God’s is still to come, as John Bownlie, the man who wrote the text of this hymn, sings about in the next verse:
4. Oh, brighter than that glorious morn Shall dawn upon our race The day when Christ in splendor comes And we shall see his face.
Brighter than that glorious morn? Brighter than that first Easter morning? What could possibly be brighter than the day that Christ rose from the dead, defeating death once and for all?
The day of His return, of course. The day of His second coming.
You see, Advent isn’t just about celebrating the coming of the Christ child that first Christmas morning, no, it has a much more continuous meaning than that – this is that ‘dual preparation’ I was talking to you about before. Advent is also a time of preparation for His second coming.
What do we have to prepare for? Ha! You can’t be serious!? Look around! What do we usually do during this ‘prep time’? Shopping? Visiting? End of year finances? While this year’s activities may differ from the usual norm, how much of that preparatory time, even this year when our schedules are admittedly less full, is spent in front of a Bible? Or in Church? Will you be putting aside any more time than you usually spend for this? I know for myself, I’m fortunate if I get even half an hour a day in of personal devotion, and that’s compared to my 3 or 4 hours of free time a day where I just sluff off and play games, read fictional stories, or play on my iPad. How is that living for Christ? How is that preparing for His return?!
This time of Advent, much like Lent, is a time to take stock of your life, your spiritual life, and realize that your spiritual day has 24 hours in it too, just like your carnal day does, and that they’re the same 24 hours – and it asks you how you spend that time. And just like Lent, we hear the voice of the one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord” at least we will be next week.
This week, the passages that looks suspiciously like the ones for the last two Sundays in church year, are calling us to prepare. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians – from Sunday morning’s epistle lesson, he writes:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor1:4-8)
‘You were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge.’ They too were given teaching, they too were taught about Him, and these teachings were confirmed among them! Whether Paul means through miracles, or prophecies, it doesn’t say, but the fact remains that they were being prepared. That’s a word I’ve used a lot today, haven’t I? Preparation. We are called to prepare, not just reflect, not just run the numbers to see how much we’re falling short, not just put up banners, lights and prettify the place, but to actually prepare.
How do we prepare? It’s not a daunting task, actually, it’s what we should be doing all year long. Get into the Word! In this Advent season, if nothing else, pick up your Bible after meal time as a family, Read His Word as you’re waiting for your appointment in the doctor’s office (there are plenty of free apps for you smart phones out there), read a short devotional while waiting for the meal to finish cooking, or heck, even during commercials! Whenever you have time, or even better, can make time for God, pick up His revelations. Pick up His Words to you in your life today. You don’t understand something? Great! Write down your questions and then give me a call. I would be more than happy to help explain Scripture to you…it’s what I try to do up here ever Sunday morning after all, and if I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, I will look it up and get back to you.
What else? How ‘bout spending more time doing Christian things? Visit people from the church you wouldn’t normally visit – with our current restrictions that will be less visiting in person and more talking on the phone – but spend time with them, encourage them. Write a card to a to a fellow member you haven’t seen for a while wishing them a Merry Christmas, and telling them that you have been praying for them and hope to see them in church again sometime soon. Maybe you could even invite them to meet up outside of church to see how they’re doing…while keeping a responsible safe distance between you. In less restrictive years I’d recommend going Christmas caroling or dropping off some Christmas baking, but this year, I’ll recommend maybe a singing e-card, or maybe a ‘phone carol’ or two. Just give some of your ‘precious time’ and hectic schedule to the One who breathed life into your lungs in the first place.
It doesn’t seem like much…it doesn’t seem like enough either though, does it? Considering what God has done for you? And, despite that, we know we won’t be able to do even half of what we could, or maybe even half of what we think we should. But we don’t need to despair about it because we know how this story ends.
We know, thanks be to God, that He came to save us. He didn’t come just to equip us to save ourselves, no, He came to do the saving on our behalf. That’s what His death and resurrection were all about, as St. Paul mentioned in that second part of the epistle lesson: “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This isn’t a slip to get out of living for God, but it is an encouragement for when we do fail, to get up and try again with God’s help.
Yes, we are all guilty of falling short, even in this time of preparation, but I pray that in those times when we do fall short, that we remember that we are truly and fully forgiven, and be encouraged to try all the harder the next time. Not because we’ve read that bumper sticker: “Jesus is coming! Quick, look busy!” but because the One who calls us is also the One who sustains us and He is also the One who will one day return to us and bring us home as the final verse of this hymn encourages us with.
5. The King shall come when morning dawns And light and beauty brings. Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of kings.
Our Lord Jesus Christ knows we can’t do it on our own. He knows we are hopeless without Him. And so, we prepare. Not just for ourselves, but also for the people that are all around us. We prepare, because by preparing we are also sharing God’s good news. Through our words and actions of Advent preparation, God’s fruit blossoms in our lives and because of this, others see what the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow is truly all about: That small child lying in a manger. That small King who came and who will one day come again in glory. Come quickly, King of kings. Amen.