As I mentioned in my previous post, one of my favourite songs each year around this time is Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. There are endless versions of it, of course—this year, I’m enjoying Future of Forestry’s take on the grand old hymn—but I’m at least as drawn to the lyrics as any particular rendition of it. There are few songs that convey the depth of human longing and the beauty of the Christian hope like this one.
At any rate, I’ve been mentally exegeting this song as I’ve been driving around town this Advent season. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve been eisegeting it. Dutiful grad student that I was, I remember that “exegesis” means ferreting out the author’s intentions behind the text while “eisegesis” points to our nasty proclivity to read our own concerns, interests, and biases into the text. Exegesis = good; eisegesis = bad. Well, I’m frankly (and selfishly) not as interested in what Charles Wesley had in mind as in what the song stirs in me. So, I will myopically eisegete away.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Our expectations so regularly outrun what is possible in the world. Frustrated expectation drives us to despair. But come, Jesus. We’ve been waiting. We expect so much from ourselves, from our neighbours, from the world, from you. Rightly or, I fear more often, wrongly. Train us in the art of divine expectancy.
Born to set Thy people free;
Man is born free and everywhere is in chains. So said Rousseau and he probably wasn’t far from the truth. We hunger for freedom—from oppression, from the misuses and abuses of power, from loneliness and isolation, from addictions and anxieties, from the dread of death, from our miserable selves. Freedom seems so elusive and precarious, yet it is for this very thing that you were born.
From our fears and sins release us,
For it is indeed our sins and our fears that are our most merciless jailers. The sins we love but cannot leave. The fears that paralyze and render us loveless and impotent. Release us.
Let us find our rest in Thee.
No more frantic striving, no more fruitless self-flagellation. Let us instead learn what it means to abide, securely, in you, the lover of our souls. To finally rest.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
For this is what is most needed for the weak and the weary. Strength. Consolation. All is not lost. All can indeed be healed. There is no sorrow that cannot be turned to gladness.
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
All the earth? Sounds like precisely the kind of totalizing narrative that is inadmissible in our pluralistic times. How can you be the hope of everyone?
Yet does not every true hope in some way, however partial and fragmentary, point toward you, the gloriously embodied synthesis of virtue and suffering, justice and peace, triumphant mercy and shattering forgiveness? Does not all the earth hunger to be graced into wholeness?
Dear desire of every nation,
Can desire really be dear? Or have we too thoroughly corrupted the word? Can desire actually be true and pure, whole and holy?
Joy of every longing heart.
Hearts are indeed for longing. And longing is, ultimately, for joy. Not for happiness or even contentment, but for joy—that deep and settled state where we are united with you, our Creator, the Author and Perfecter or our salvation.
Born Thy people to deliver,
We are indeed your people. Your treasured possession, your wandering flock, your maddening bride. We bear your image, if not always well. We belong to you. At our best, we are glad for this.
Born a child and yet a King,
One of the deep mysteries of the gospel. A child and a king. A king that would be hunted as an infant, misunderstood as a young man, misunderstood, mocked and abused as an adult and, ultimately, vindicated as Ruler and Redeemer of all creation.
Born to reign in us forever,
Forever. What a word. Our minds stretch and strain to even imagine it. We are simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated by even the prospect of it.
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
For your kingdom is indeed a kingdom of grace. A kingdom where debts are canceled and sin-weary prodigals come stumbling home.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Eternal. What a word. That which does not pass away. That which is not overwhelmed and rendered impotent and ineffectual by the dull march of time. You alone, are not hampered by finitude. You alone, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Rule in all our hearts alone;
Ah, to have an undivided heart. A heart where you alone rule. Where the thief no longer comes to steal and destroy. Where the self is graciously overruled.
By Thine all sufficient merit,
In a world where we are obsessed with our own merits and with our neighbour’s failings. In a world of score keepers and judges. Reroute us. Let us look to your merits, your example of mercy triumphing over sacrifice.
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Yes, raise us. Lift us above and beyond our small and weary selves. Imprint upon us your love. Fit us for glory.
The image above is taken from the 2019-20 Christian Seasons Calendar. It is a creation of Bryanna Russell and is called “Making Womb.”