Liturgy Lessons: December 17, 2017 – Third Sunday of Advent
Musical Introit – O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Call to worship: Isaiah 40:1-5,9,27-31
Opening hymn: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus (#196)
Call to Confession: Malachi 3:1-3
Advent Prayer Song: Come Lord Jesus
Assurance of Pardon: from Luke 1, Song of Zechariah
Hymn of Assurance: Wonderful, Merciful Savior; Be Unto Your Name
Advent Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7
Reading of the Word: Luke 1:57-80
Advent Doxology: The First Noel (last verse)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Of the Father’s Love Begotten; O Come, All Ye Faithful (#208, vs. 1-3)
Closing Hymn: Go Tell It on the Mountain (#224)
Sung response: “Gloria in excelsis deo”
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
Text: Charles Wesley (vss. 1,4, 1744); Mark Hunt (vss. 2,3, 1978)
Tune: HYFRYDOL, Rowland Hugh Pritchard (1855)
As a singing people, the church has an astonishing creative legacy! Consider the victory songs of Moses and Miriam (Ex. 15:21), David (1 Sa. 18:7) and Jehoshaphat (2 Ch. 20:21), the laments of the Israelites (Ps. 137), the hopeful praise of Paul and Silas (Ac. 16), and the heavenly chorus around the throne (Rev. 5:9-10). God’s creative spirit has breathed through the ancient Psalms, medieval chant, reformation hymnody, gospel refrains, and modern choruses. From Wesley to Watts, Bliss to Bonar, and even Gaither to Getty, songs have poured into the sanctuary in every generation. Among that astonishing arsenal, there are “silver bullet” hymns whose text captures the essence of a moment in the church calendar. Charles Wesley seemed to hit a bullseye with each season, perhaps because of his astonishing output (over 9,000 hymns). If you fire off enough verse, you are bound to hit the target a few times! For Easter, he gave us “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” and for Christmas, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” For Advent we have this quintessential text, which perfectly captures the two-fold purpose of the season: remembering the birth of Christ, and re-awakening a longing for his second coming. Wesley’s original text consisted of two stanzas of eight lines, and he uses a lot of repetition to hammer home some key themes. Notice how in verse four he repeats the word “born” three times to emphasize the incarnation, and to highlight its ultimate purpose. Christ was born to “deliver,” “reign,” and “raise us to thy glorious throne.” In contrast to other advent hymns that focus exclusively on the Christmas narrative or the unfolding drama in Bethlehem, Wesley’s verse contains beautiful eschatology and points us to the hope of Christ’s second coming. This popular hymn has been set to many tunes. Our hymnal uses HYFRYDOL, a Welsh tune composed by Rowland Prichard in 1830, and commonly associated with “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”
Vss. 1-2: Cor. 4:14, Rev. 3:21
Vss. 3-4: Isa. 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19, Rom. 6:22
Of the Father’s Love Begotten
Music: Plainsong Chant, 12th century
Text: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 4th century
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-413) was a Spanish poet and lawyer who began writing poetry at the age of 57. Hymnologist Albert Bailey, who considers Prudentius “the earliest Christian writer who was a real poet,” calls this a “fighting hymn.” During the 4th century, the theology of the early church was under attack by heretical perspectives. A teacher named Arius (250-336) argued that God the Father and the Son did not co-exist throughout eternity, that Jesus did not exist through all time. Under this false teaching, Jesus was a creature that, though divine, was not equal to the Father. So, In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine called together the First Council of Nicea to discuss the Church’s official stance on the nature of the Trinity. The council condemned the teaching of Arius, and produced The Nicene Creed, written as a statement of faith that clarified and codified the Trinitarian theology for the church.
Prudentius’ hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” written shortly after the Council of Nicea, opens with “Corde natus ex parentis ante mundi exordium (literally “Born from the parent’s heart before the beginning of time”). Starting from this point, the lawyer-poet Prudentius sets forth his argument that the Son has always, is always, and will always be with God and us. It is very clear from his text that Christ is both human and divine, and was “begotten” of the Father.
The textual themes of transcendence are supported beautifully by the melody, which is a plainchant from the 12th century. The original is a meditative and meter-less chant that is quite haunting. The version we are using this coming Sunday is a bit brighter and rhythmic setting in three-four meter (see final link below to hear it). As we sing it, may we remember this truth from the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness has not understood it….and the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us and we beheld His glory (the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
O Come, All Ye Faithful
Text: John Francis Wade (ca. 1740)
Tune: ADESTE FIDELES, John Francis Wade
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
– Luke 2:15
If there were one prayer to sum up the season of Advent, it would be the desperate plea “Come, Lord Jesus!” During these weeks, we echo the yearning of Israel as it longed for the first coming of the Messiah at Christmas. And while we await the second coming, we invite Christ to be born in our hearts anew through his Spirit. But in this beloved hymn, there is another sort of invitation that demands an RSVP.
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” is one of the most celebrated Christmas hymns of all time. It is essentially a musical Christmas card, inviting us to the party at the manger! Not once, not twice, but three times in the opening verse alone, we are invited to “come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem.” And, how shall we come? “Joyful and triumphant,” for the Christ child is the answer to our desperate plea. We celebrate and adore him who is the “Word of the father, now in flesh appearing.” As the verses continue, it’s as if the hymn itself sprouts legs, runs ahead of us toward the Bethlehem Star, shouting “Come on, guys, you gotta’ see this!” After each verse, there is a fugal refrain, where one voice sings the tuneful invitation, and the others echo, as if caught up in the fervor, joy, and unbridled anticipation. I imagine that as we sing this we become the shepherds in the Christmas story from Luke 2. Of course, we cannot literally visit Jesus in the manger. But, each Sunday as we gather at church, we can come to Bethlehem in a sense. As we are called in by God to worship, our hearts and imaginations are rekindled by Him and the re-telling of his salvation story. We come to worship during the Advent season to reflect on the central figure in that story, the miracle of Jesus, “Light of light, begotten not created.” And in our worship service, we come to adore the infant king, who, for us and our salvation was born in a manger, walked the earth, suffered on a cross, and was raised from the dead on Easter. So come, fellow suburban shepherds, let us adore him, who now reigns in heaven, welcomes us into his presence, and equips us for every good work as we await His imminent return. This is cause for great rejoicing, and below is a link to an infectious up-tempo version of this that captures the true spirit of this expectant and celebratory hymn. Listen to it and imagine joining in the refrain as the shepherds skip and sing their way to the Savior.
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” is a translation of a Latin hymn, Adeste Fidelis. There is debate about the origins, but the hymn most likely was written by John Francis Wade in the middle of the 18th century. The most popular English translation, which is quite faithful to the original Latin, was written by Frederick Oakeley in 1852.