The First Day of Christmas

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December 26, 2015 by Lauren

Boo, peeps! Bet you forgot this blog existed. I got busy (who didn’t right?), but I have good news for you (well, I guess it depends on whether you like reading this blog, but if you don’t, you should probably stop and ask yourself why you are doing that, right this very minute in fact…):

I am blogging the 12 days of Christmas. That means a blog post per day. For twelve days. In case you’re as bad at math as I am. (I had my husband the engineer check this paragraph for accuracy.)

As you know, there are partridges and pear trees and all sorts of nonsense allotted for this, the first day of Christmas. But since my pear ornament still hasn’t arrived from my Etsy dealer, instead today I am going to talk about my favorite Christmas hymn.

[Spoiler alert: “It’s Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”]

Now, I grew up (after 4th grade) in the PCA, and at a church where we were pretty obsessed with RUF. I had all the RUF CDs I could get my hands on pretty early in high school. My high school youth group sang way more stuff like “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” and “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” than that peskily romantic “In the Secret.” And, if you’re familiar with those hymns and you click those links and listen to the demos, you’ll notice that one of them is a folked-up version of the traditional tune and the other is to a completely new tune. That’s what RUF often does with rich, old hymn texts – set them to new tunes, especially if the old tune lack a certain accessibility to the modern ear.

So, thanks to youth group, I learned “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” by heart to the RUF tune of this song (“O Day of Rest and Gladness”), although I’ve found no recording of this song to this tune. (I like the traditional tune as well, but I learned it later.) And when we sang it, we sang it with 4 verses. Unless you were at PCPC with me, I bet you’ve never sung – or heard – all four. I cannot find a single recording on iTunes of all four verses, and believe me, I have looked. The reason is probably that the two verses that are most often sung – below they are 1 and 4 – were written by Charles Wesley in 1744, while the other two were inserted by some fellow named Mark E. Hunt in 1978.

Despite their disparate origins, I think the song 1) flows better with all four verses in play – they’re woven together so nicely, and 2) really isn’t very long anyway, so there’s like zero excuse for the cut. Unless you’re a Wesley-purist or something. But maybe that’s just me.

So here they are: glorious lyrics about our glorious King.

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 ev’ry longing heart.

Joy to those who long to see Thee, Dayspring from on high, appear!
Come, Thou promised-Rod of Jesse – of Thy birth we long to hear. 

O’er the hills, the angels singing news, glad tidings of a birth:
“Go to Him, your praises bringing – Christ, the Lord has come to earth!”

Come to earth to taste our sadness, He, Whose glories knew no end; 
By His life He brings us gladness, our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.
Leaving riches without number, born within a cattle stall –
This the everlasting wonder: Christ was born the Lord of all. 

Born Thy people to deliver, born a Child a 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. 

Come on now, isn’t that brilliant? And packed with riches – so many truths about Christ crammed into such little space. Here are some of my favorites:

  • This song is full of affection for Jesus. I love that, because stirring our hearts to love Him is something music really can helps us with. It’s not creepy, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend affection, but it recognizes Who He has revealed Himself to be and receives Him with faith and love. Look at some of the names used to describe Him: “Strength and Consolation;” “Dear Desire” (not just an important desire, but one dear to the singer); “Joy to those who long to see Thee;” the powerful string “our Redeemer, Shepherd, Friend.”
  • I love the constant juxtaposition of Jesus’ humanity and His deity, His greatness and His teeniness: the story of God-become-zygote; the ineffable becoming a Man with skin and bones; the Holy One bearing the weight of our sin and brokenness; the difference between the the gloriousness of heaven and the poverty and pain of the Son of Man*.
  • The Gospel is so clear: Christ came to deliver for Himself a people. He sets us free, releasing us from our fears and our sins. He does this by His “all-sufficient merit.” This is justification. He sends the Spirit to indwell us and conform us to Him, filling us with appropriate love and awe and gratitude and joy in and for God, as well as holiness (“by Thine own eternal Spirit, rule in all our hearts alone”). This is sanctification. “Raise us to Thy glorious throne” – bring us to Your Presence – this is glorification.
  • There are so many references to Old Testament prophecies! These words are laden with them.
  • The whole song is about anticipation – the anticipation of Christmas, of course, which makes it super-appropriate to Advent, but also the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. The hope of things being made right, of brokenness being healed, of joy that doesn’t end – those things we always anticipate. We are groaning right alongside creation for that day.

 

*The Son gave up this incredible glory to secure a greater glory – the glory of redeeming a people for Himself, of reconciling sinners to the Father, of being a God Who saves. Indeed, His right hand is strong to deliver.

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