We Wait and Watch: A New Hymn for Advent

Advent Candles

Advent Candles

As part of my master’s thesis at Regent College, I wrote a Good Friday hymn cycle based on the Seven Last Words of Christ. In the years since, I’ve written a song or two for Easter musicals, but I’ve not written any more congregational hymns. This year, my family and I began attending a new church with a strong hymn tradition, and the idea for a new hymn formed.

As with several of my Good Friday hymns, the tune inspired the lyrics. My friend Tom Trevethan introduced me to the hymn “We Rest of Thee” several years ago, and his love for the hymn and its history became my own. I later learned that the hymn had a strong connection to InterVarsity, in addition to being the hymn sung by the missionary Jim Eliot and his companions shortly before their deaths. Even though I previously had little knowledge of the hymn, after I heard Tom speak so movingly about it, I often found myself tearing up whenever I had the opportunity to sing it.

The tune is “Finlandia,” adapted from Jean Sibelius’s symphonic poem. The melody is beautiful, though one with its own challenges for lyrics. Each line is relatively long by hymn standards (10 or 11 syllables), and the 1st, 3rd, and 5th lines end with a rising motif that doesn’t fit all words. In the words, I tried to bring together several different images and themes from traditional Advent readings and things that Jesus said about his Second Coming. Many thanks to Anthony Palm for arranging and conducting the hymn for the church, as well as making some good suggestions about word choice, to the Hebron Lutheran Church Choir for singing it this morning, and to Pastor Dave Shockey for giving me this opportunity.

I hope this hymn will be a blessing to you this Advent.

We Wait and Watch

We wait and watch for our Lord Christ’s returning;
  We stand alert, like watchmen on the wall. 
We feel him near, our hearts within us burning,
  At any hour, prepared to give our all. 
We wait and watch; our hope is in his hand. 
Soon we will see, and all will understand. 

We wait and watch, like virgins did by twilight. 
  Five filled their lamps, the others left theirs dry.
Their drowsiness laid claim to all their might;
  Their eyes fell closed, until they heard the cry.  
The wisest five also rose at once to follow;
Those unprepared were left behind in woe. 

None know the hour the Father has appointed.
  Christ will appear as sudden as a thief,
Riding on clouds, revealed as God’s anointed:
  Soon he will come, confirming our belief. 
None know the hour; no one will know the day. 
We wait and watch, and in our hope we pray. 

Come quickly, Lord; your reign endures forever.
  Our Father’s will, be done upon the earth, 
The lion and lamb lay down in peace together,
  And New Jerusalem be given birth. 
We wait and watch for the whole world restored,
When every heart proclaims you as the Lord.

Advent Devotional – 2009

I delivered this devotional at the Christian Marketplace Network luncheon on Friday, December 11, 2009.

We say we’re in the Christmas season, but for most Christians around the world, Christmas hasn’t started yet. This is the Advent season, when we prepare for Christmas. The word “advent” means “the coming of something.” Specifically, we look for the coming of two events.

First, we go back in time and look forward to the birth of the Messiah. Israel waited centuries for the Messiah, while Mary awaited the Messiah’s birth at any moment. Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus was probably born in the spring, not in December, but can’t imagine Mary in this final month of pregnancy? She was physically ready for Jesus’s birth. More importantly, she was spiritually ready for the Messiah to save Israel.

Secondly, Advent also looks forward to the second coming. We live in a time of “already, but not yet” – Jesus has already died for our sins and risen to give us new life, but we have not yet seen God’s kingdom established on earth.

December is a hard month. We’re supposed to be celebrating; at the same time, we can’t help but think about our loved ones who aren’t with us this year, about the people in our community who don’t have enough food or money, about people around the world who lack basic necessities. We are singing great Christmas songs along with Star 93.3. At the same time, we are groaning prayers of hope.

The prophet Isaiah knew this paradox very well. For years, he had warned Judah that their sins were going to lead to destruction. When that destruction was almost upon them, though, God gave Isaiah a message of hope that we still hear today. In Chapter 40 ,Isaiah delivers the words that we know so well from the ministry of John the Baptist, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

    A voice cries,
    â€œIn the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
        make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be lifted up,
        and every mountain and hill made low;
    the uneven ground shall become level,
        and the rough places plain.
    And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
        and all flesh shall see it together,
        for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

We see the glory of the Lord revealed in the infant Jesus, and we await the glory of the Lord to be revealed in full when Jesus returns. And so, this Christmas we pray, with Israel and the early church, “Come, Lord.”

The Advent of Christ for All People

This month, we remember the first coming of Christ and anticipate the second coming. Here is early church leader Irenaeus, on the coming of Christ:

For it was not merely for those who believed on Him in the time of Tiberius Caesar that Christ came, nor did the Father exercise His providence for the men only who were not alive, but for all men altogether, who from the beginning, according to their capacity, in their generation have both feared and loved God, and practiced justice and piety towards their neighbours, and have earnestly desired to see Christ, and to hear His voice.

— Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.22.2, via Veli-Matti Kärkäinen, An Introduction to the Theology of Religions

Who was Irenaeus? He was an early Christian leader, Greek by ethnicity, Turkish by birth, who served as bishop in modern-day France. (See – globalism is not only a contemporary phenomenon!) He was the “spiritual grandson” of the apostle John, having been discipled by Polycarp, a disciple of John’s.