by The Rev. Dr. Stuart Baskin, pastor
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.
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.
With a remarkable economy of words—just ninety-one to be exact—Charles Wesley manages to encapsulate in this lovely hymn much of the essence of our Christian faith.
The hymn begins by identifying Jesus as the long-expected Jewish Messiah. No surprise there, but it is an important point. Jesus didn’t just happen along; his birth was part of God’s promises to Israel, God’s chosen people. But then the hymn, following the Christian tradition, redefines the role of the Messiah from political savior to moral/spiritual savior: “from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.”
Next, consistent with Genesis 12:3 (“…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”), the hymn expands the lordship of the expected Messiah from exclusively for the benefit of Israel to all the nations of the world: “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
Wesley uses the technique of repetition to describe the arc of Jesus’s mission. Four times the hymn uses the word “born:” “born to set thy people free;” “born thy people to deliver;” “born a child and yet a king;” “born to reign in us forever.” Here Wesley points to the very purpose of Christ’s birth: to save us, to deliver us, and to rule over us.
The hymn closes with one of the great themes of the Christian faith: that our salvation is a gift of free grace by which we are accepted not as a result of our own merits, but only by the merits of Jesus Christ, which God graciously applies to us: “by thine all-sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne.”
Our Advent observance will begin with these beautiful words. May we hold them in our hearts throughout the season.
God of mercy, we praise you for your gracious promises, first to your people Israel, and ultimately to us and to the whole world. May we who know your grace in Jesus Christ always sing your praises; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For families with children:
Isn’t it hard to wait for something special? It seems like a long time between birthdays, summer vacations and Christmas. Can you imagine waiting for years for a promise to come true? That is what happens in this special Christmas song.
Jesus was promised to the Jewish people in Israel, as their Messiah. He came to them and was the savior of all people. He was born for this reason. He set us free. We also learn about grace in this song. Jesus lived and died for us, for our sin. Jesus fulfilled God’s promise and gave us the gift of grace.
· Have you ever made a promise to someone else? Think about what you promised.
· Did you keep your promise?
· Can you imagine having to wait years to see the promise fulfilled? How would that feel?
Gracious God, thank you for your promise fulfilled in the long expected birth of Jesus Christ. Help us to remember that he came to set us free. Amen.
 C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: Hymn expresses longing for arrival of our Savior,” Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church, accessed October 25, 2016, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-hymn-expresses-longing-for-arrival-of-our-savior.