Just So We’re Clear, Mary Did Know

This is silly. I can’t believe I’m doing this. (So don’t do it, LeCroy.) Sigh. I’m gonna do it.

There’s this song. It’s schmaltzy and sentimental, like many of the contemporary Christian songs I grew up with. If you like this song, I advise you to stop reading. Because I’m going to trash it.

I grew up in the glorious heyday of CCM, and I loved every minute of it. I went to their concerts. I sang their songs in church services and in youth talent competitions. I bought their tapes, read their books, and had their posters on my bedroom wall. Like most Evangelical teen boys growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s I had a crush on Amy Grant. Later I had one on Rebecca St. James. I listened to the local CCM station non-stop, even as a kid sending in some of my meager dollars for their pledge drive. I’m not really cynical or bitter about it. I am mostly appreciative of such a wholesome upbringing in a non-ironic way. The point is, I’m an insider offering insider critique.

Here’s my critique: “Mary Did You Know?” is a terrible song.

I mean, the tune is catchy enough. It sticks in your head like many of CCM’s greatest hits. There’s nothing like a good spirit-filled musical climax or key change to grease the skids on a flagging worship service (I grew up Pentecostal. Key changes were a means of grace for us. The Spirit seemed to always coincide with the high notes.). Aesthetically, it fits in with the era in which it was written. It’s in the Bill Gaither milieu, so it’s melodically rangy and adeptly uses musical climax to stir the emotions. The original recording was by Michael English in 1991. Michael English is an incredible singer. I saw him live once, because of course I did. You have to give that original a listen. Hoo, boy. It’s fantastic (now I’m being nostalgic and a little bit ironic, but in a good way). The music is Phil Collins and the vocals are Michael McDonald. There’s even a third verse drum entrance crescendo à la “In the Air Tonight.” So, as far as that goes, it’s not bad. In fact if you love 80’s music it’s glorious, if about a decade late as most CCM is.

But the lyrics. Ugh.

The author, Mark Lowry, is a great guy. He’s a comedian and singer who tours with Bill Gaither. But he’s not a biblical scholar or theologian, bless his heart.

I mean, the song is fine. If you like it, listen to it. Like the old adage about wine, if you enjoy it drink it. If you like Boone’s Farm, slurp it up, my friend. No judgment here.

But just so you know: Mary knew.

This is my biggest problem with the song. It’s inaccurate and unhelpful. (But, pastor, I just listen to it because I like the beat). We can go line by line through the song to illustrate this (and don’t worry, I will), but in general it presents a version of femininity in Mary that is not true to her or the other heroines of the Bible. It presents her as a clueless passenger in this journey instead of one of the key players. It woefully downplays the importance of her role. Not only did Mary have the perilous job of carrying the God-Man in her body to full term, consider this: the infant mortality in the Roman Empire was about 30%, and an additional 30% of children did not reach adulthood. That’s only a 40% chance of Jesus living to the age of 20. And that’s not even taking to account the fact that people were out there actively trying to kill him. Powerful people. With armies.

Mary’s job was to feed him, clothe him, and keep him safe. She also taught the young boy manners and took him to church. He learned to speak by imitating her. He had her accent. The Eternal Word of God learned human speech from this marvelous woman by watching her lips and imitating her sounds. And all indications are that she did it for the latter half of his life as a single mother.
She did all of this while remaining faithful. She did not take the apple, as her mother Eve did. She was graced by God and did not waiver. She wept at the foot of the cross when the Apostles fled in fear. She was in the upper room on Easter evening and on Pentecost. She helped Luke write his Gospel. This was a strong woman, who stands at the pinnacle of all the heroines of the Old Testament. Higher than Deborah. Higher than Jael. She may not have crushed heads with her hands, but she raised the head-crusher par excellence. She was a Miriam (that’s her name, by the way) seeing her baby boy down the Nile to safety and then raising him to be the deliverer of her people. She is a leaping, dancing prophetess, singing on the shore of the Red Sea with the drowned army of the enemy lying submerged within. Only that beachhead was not in Arabia but in the hill country of Judea in response to a leaping, dancing fetus and a blessed declaration by her auntie. Yet the song is just as victorious and prophetic as the song of her namesake centuries before.

She knew.

Let’s put this to rest. The image of Mary as a passive, quiet bystander who just happened to be the human incubator of the most high, praised for her purity and her quiet virtue, is a product of wrongheaded ideas about sex, purity, and the human body which sadly dominated the early church and the middle ages. Mary was not virtuous because she was a virgin. She was a virgin because she was virtuous. And she didn’t stop being virtuous the moment she was no longer a virgin. I almost typed when she lost her virginity, as if virginity is a thing that can be lost and when you lose it you are damaged goods. There are some purity preachers who go about the country giving Christian teen girls shiny brand new pennies and telling them not to lose their virginity because then they will become tarnished. They need to keep their pennies shiny and bright so that they can give that gift to their husbands. What a load of hot steaming garbage! If a girl falls into sexual sin she hasn’t become any more tarnished than she already was, for heaven’s sake. She needs to repent of that sin and endeavor towards chastity in the future, but she isn’t damaged goods. The gift that she will eventually give her husband is not her virginity, but her very self and her promise to be his faithful wedded wife. We need to put this thing to bed for good. By the way, those same preachers don’t give the teen boys shiny pennies. What sexist nonsense!

I digress. The image of Mary as meek and mild does come from that same purity culture, though. I could give you an in-depth history of the development of sexual purity culture, how it began as a result of the cessation of martyrdom and the rise of the monastic class in the early Middle Ages, but I’ll spare you that. The high-point of this insanity is demonstrated in the medieval idea that when Jesus was born he did not pass through Mary’s vagina, but miraculously passed through her belly, leaving her maidenhead intact. I’m not joking. Here’s the point: Mary’s virginity was not a virtue in and of itself. It was important that she be a virgin in order to serve as a symbol of the new creation and to prove that she conceived by the Holy Spirit. To further demonstrate this, Rahab is a mother of Jesus and she was decidedly not a virgin. Her former life of prostitution did not make her unworthy of mothering Messiah.

Mary was not a hapless damsel in distress, the prototypical medieval maiden cloistered in her embroidery with her ladies-in-waiting. She was a warrior princess. She was Eowyn of Rohan singing and slaying. Her Magnificat, sung on that Judean hillside, was a response to the devil whispering to her, tempting her to the apple saying, “No man can kill me.” That song and her courageous life afterward is her reply, “I am no man.”

She knew. Frankly it is insulting to ask her the question.

Let us analyze the lyrics of this song.

Read the rest over at Semper Ref.

Image: Virgin Mary and Eve, Crayon and pencil drawing by Sr. Grace Remington, OCSO, © 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey. Printed versions of this incredible image can be purchased here.

The Promise of His Appearing: The Historical Development of Christmas and Advent

Advent Is Not Christmas, Part II

This is part two of a two part series. To read part one click here.

“I hate Christmas.”

I recently read an article in the Washington Post whose title was, “I hate Christmas.” It wasn’t entirely what I expected: an atheist curmudgeon annoyed by the ubiquitous seasonal Christian messaging, wishing that everyone would get off his god-free lawn. While there was a little bit of that in the piece, it was mostly centered around the fact that because the author grew up poor, he could never experience Christmas the way movies, tv shows, pop songs, commercials, catalogs, and even friends and family taught him he was supposed to experience it. His family could never afford the lavish feast, the tree surrounded with all the items on his Christmas wish list, or even a very nice tree. He now shuns Christmas along with its gatherings, festivities, gifts, and cheer, instead spending all the money he can afford buying toys for poor children so they can have the Christmas he never had.

I finished the article thinking that the author hadn’t rejected Christmas, he had rejected what Christmas has become: a commercialized cornucopia of instant gratification. What he had actually offered was a valid critique of Christmas and a call to recenter on its true meaning. After all, what more pure symbol of the Christmas spirit is there than sacrificing financially to provide gifts to poor children? St. Nicholas, anyone?

Afterward, I perused a bit of the comment section (yes, I know you are not supposed to read the comments). Many commenters agreed with the author. Some agreed because they were of other religions or were atheists (what I thought the article was going to be about). Others, though, didn’t reject Christmas but rather the spectacle that it has become. One commenter replied, “Only 2-ish weeks before the schizophrenia is behind us. My favorite day of the year is January 1, when it’s all over.”

Christmas isn’t the problem

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. If there was a hidden camera in my house it would catch me randomly singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” My wife and I have curated the biggest (and best) Christmas display in a three or four block radius (in our estimation… opinions may vary). I love the feasting. I love the gift-giving. I love the Christmas liturgies, hymns, and candlelight services. I love all that because I love the message of Christ born to set his people free. I love the message of Immanuel, God-with-us, that the God of the Universe took on every bit of our broken humanity so that he could redeem it all. I love it because the incarnation is the only sufficient answer to the problem of evil in this world, as the best philosophers have realized, St. Augustine at the head. I love it because he became sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God. That’s the reason I’m singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” That’s the reason why I’ve lit my yard up in multicolored c-9 ceramic bulb nostalgic glory. That’s also the reason why I’m ecstatic that the whole world pauses once a year to celebrate the fact that God was born into the world.

And yet, I resonate with what that Washington Post author wrote. Because he’s right. The Christmas message is not what Hallmark, Home Depot, Honda, Hanes, Harley-Davidson, Hurley, and Hasbro are selling us. We have gotten off the rails, or jumped the shark, or whatever metaphor you want to use, in our overindulgence of the Coca-Cola commercialized version of Christmas. The songs, ads, and store displays start before Halloween now. That’s three full months on a peppermint Red Bull IV drip of wall-to-wall Christmas experience. There’s no expectation. There’s no preparation. There’s no self-denial. It’s just CHRISTMAS!!!!!, full-bore, full-tilt for three full months until December 26 when they turn off the spigot and we collapse into full-on exhaustion. No wonder some people hate it.

But that’s not the way Christmas was designed by those that developed the church year centuries ago. Yes, there was feasting. Yes, there was decorating and singing and gift-giving. But preceding it was a period of longing, expectation, and self-denial focused on something entirely un-Christmassy: the second coming of Christ. In other words, there was the season of Advent. And Advent was not Christmas.

Perhaps refocusing on the wisdom of those that created the autumnal portion of the Church calendar could help us in our current predicament. What can we learn by sitting at their feet?

Click here to read the rest of the article over at Semper Ref.

Gregory of Nazianzus on the Incarnation

Gregory of Nazianzus was a 4th century bishop from Cappadocia who eventually became the Archbishop of Constantinople. Together with the brothers Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa they were known as the Cappodocian Fathers. Basil, Nazianzus, and John Chrysostom are known collectively as the Three Holy Heirarchs, the Eastern Church’s version of the Four Great Doctors (Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory the Great, and Jerome). Gregory briefly presided over the Council of Constantinople (which gave us the Nicene Creed) and is responsible for the Trinitarian language we use about the Holy Spirit, the language of “three persons” (hypostases) of the Trinity, and in articulating Christology in the face of Apollinarianism. In other words, he was kind of a big deal.

It is to Gregory’s defense of the full humanity of Christ against the heresy of Apollinaris that I now turn. Apollinarianism was a heresy that taught that while Jesus had a human body, he did not possess a human mind. What’s the big deal, you ask? He’s still divine. Well, Gregory of Nazianzus would have none of that. In his Epistle 101 he eloquently articulates why it is important that Jesus Christ possesses a human mind. In this section he bequeaths to the church this important theological maxim that you should commit to memory: what has not been assumed has not been healed. Here’s the conclusion to his letter.

If anyone has put his trust in Him as a Man without a human mind, he is really bereft of mind, and quite unworthy of salvation. For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Saviour only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101, 4th c. A.D.

Three things stick out from this quote. First of all is the Eastern notion that the incarnation itself, God uniting with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, is the source of our salvation. Of course, the atoning work of the cross to gain the forgiveness of our sins was necessary, but this notion of the hypostatic union- that humanity and divinity are inseparably united together in Christ and by the very force of that union we find the source of the righting of our broken humanity- this is key aspect of our salvation as well. Thus, Gregory reasoned, if Christ was not fully human, we are not fully saved. If he did not have a human mind, as Apollinaris taught, then our minds are not healed. But if our minds are fallen, then we need our minds to be redeemed. Who among us who has suffered from depression, anxiety, or other disabilities that with modern science we know are afflictions of the mind would not agree that our minds are fallen and in need of healing? Since our minds are fallen we need a Jesus with a human mind, to heal our minds by the union of broken humanity with the divine.

Further, if our wills are fallen or our emotions, or any other non-tangible aspect of our inner-selves, then Jesus had to have a human one of those too. Otherwise we are not fully redeemed.

Secondly, we have in this quote something that looks an awful lot like the Calvinistic idea of radical depravity. Gregory’s syllogism requires belief in the notion that every aspect of humanity is fallen and in need of redemption. He writes, “If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole.” The whole of his nature fell, including the parts that make decisions, the will, and enable a person to respond to the gospel call by faith. That looks like radical depravity to me.

And that leads to the third notion in the quote that so powerfully resonates: the idea that we are saved to the uttermost. It’s not just that our souls are rescued to escape eternal punishment. No, all of who we are, every aspect of who we are as humans is saved because every aspect of our fallen humanity was united to the Godhead in the person of Jesus Christ. In that humanity he perfectly obeyed and pleased the father, was crucified to pay the debt we could never repay, was raised again as the first-fruits of our resurrection, was glorified into a new incorruptible, impeccable humanity that we will all one day possess, and was raised into the heavens where a fully human person sits at the right hand of the Father ruling over all things and sustaining all things with his powerful word.

That is salvation. Do not begrudge us any little bit of it. For if any part of Jesus’ humanity wasn’t really human, if he wasn’t truly consubstantial with us in his humanity, then we aren’t completely saved. What has not been assumed has not been healed. Let them not, then, begrudge us our complete salvation, or clothe the Savior only with bones and nerves and the portraiture of humanity.

The Biblical and Patristic Roots of the Church Calendar

Advent is Not Christmas, Part I

This is part one of a two part series. To read part two click here.

I have a pet peeve. Actually, I have several. This one has to do with the way that many churches do Advent, that is, as an extended time of Christmas. Their focus is on the first Advent of Christ, and the time is spent covering the biblical material leading up to his birth. Christmas carols and hymns are sung from the first Sunday of Advent onward and there is no distinctive Christmas season. In other words, Advent is Christmas.

There is just one problem. Advent is not Christmas.

Before I get any further I need to make several disclaimers. First, the purpose of this essay is not to shame anyone or call anyone out. I’ve observed this practice enough to not have any one particular church in mind. In fact, the church I attended this week on the First Sunday of Advent did it correctly. So, I’m not calling anyone out in particular and neither do I have any recent experience in mind. Second, my goal is not to cause anyone to feel ashamed or to cause any immediate, drastic changes in your church. My purpose is to educate and train. The church year is a secondary (or even tertiary) matter, and there’s no reason to go to war over how anyone does the church year (or doesn’t).

That said, if we are going to do the church year, I think that it ought to be grounded in what the Scripture teaches and what the church has observed over the centuries, and that as Reformed Christians we ought to have a good rationale and purpose for doing it.

In this essay, part one of two, I will cover the broader biblical and historical aspects and then in part two I will get into the nitty gritty of why Advent is not Christmas (and why that matters).

The Church Year is Grounded in God’s Word

The church year is not just a cool thing that trendy churches are now doing. While I think it’s good that all kinds of churches are getting in touch with the roots of historic Christianity, as we do that we need to understand what we are doing and why. Ancient does not necessarily equate to good and helpful, and we need to understand what unhelpful aspects may have developed in ancient practices so we can avoid them. When it comes to the church year, we are not just appropriating church tradition. It turns out that, as in many other things, the church’s tradition is grounded in God’s Word.

Please continue reading over at SemperRef.

Re-Blog – Five Misconceptions about Reformation Day

Today is Halloween, better known as Reformation Day. I jest. Kidding aside, this is an important day in the history of Christianity. But just how important is it, and why?

I wrote this post three years ago at the 500th anniversary of the event. I think the points I draw out still have some relevance.

I would like to point out that my logging of these misconceptions is not simply an exercise in pedantry. These things matter because those misconceptions not only shift the way we think about that day itself, but the medieval church and the conditions in which the reformation started. By clearing away those weeds we can discover fruit that both the medieval church and the Reformation have to offer. This project allows us to see the Reformation more fully and richly as we perhaps discover and glean from the medieval church for the first time.

Take up and read: https://theopolisinstitute.com/five-misconceptions-of-reformation-day/

Re-post: Holy Saturday Homily – A Great Silence and Stillness

I enjoy reading this ancient Holy Saturday homily each year. It is rich with biblical theology. It makes very powerful and sophisticated connections between the sin of Adam and the redemption of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

We do not know who wrote this homily. It likely dates from the 2nd. c.

I think the theme of stillness resonates with us in this time of COVID-19. A stillness that erupts with resurrection victory on Easter morning.

We are longing for that day to come.

Read here: An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

Into the Darkness

Click here for this year’s Advent Prayer Guide.

The light fades earlier and earlier this time of year and darkness falls upon us. Darkness can easily be associated with evil in antithesis to light, but in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, God created the heavens in the earth and separated the light from the darkness and said it was good. Total darkness is not good. Only darkness is not good. But darkness followed by light followed by darkness is good. God said so, in the beginning.

The fact that there is more darkness this time of the year is also good. God created it this way. It is good. On the fourth day God made two lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. He also made stars to be co-regents of the nighttime sky. Thus Night is never totally dark. We are not meant to dwell in total darkness. Even in the deepest night there are lesser lights ruling over it reminding us of the greater light to come. When God placed these greater and lesser (and even lesser) lights in the sky he said it was for “signs and for seasons.” This means we are to learn from the darkness; it is a sign for us. This means that the changing seasons are also good. This dark part of the year is the way God made things. It is good. We are to meditate on what this means.

It’s hard for us modern people to think about the meaning of darkness because we never really have to be in it. Our world is always lit. Darkness is rather foreign to us. But if we think about the world without modern amenities, the darkness is a natural time to rest. Without light we cannot work. We can think. We can pray. We can talk. We cannot work. Darkness implies the need for rest. Darkness also implies the need for quiet. It gets quiet at night. You can become aware of this if you are out in the woods just before dawn, especially in the late fall or winter when the bugs are no longer active. It’s quiet. Deafeningly so. And then just before dawn, when the light begins to grow in the sky, noises start happening. Birds start chirping. Squirrels start messing about. The noises are distracting, but the night is quiet. Quiet for meditation and prayer. This is how Jesus spent his last night before the cross. And he implored his disciples to join him, though they became overwhelmed with sorrow.

Watch and pray. This is the theme of Advent. Advent is not preparation or prelude for the babe born on Christmas morn. Advent is a watchful expectation for the King to return and dispel darkness and usher in his kingdom of light. We inhabit the darkness. We watch and pray in the darkness. And we know that after darkness, the light will come.

Many of us have had much to mourn this year. Many have experienced pain and loss. Many suffer under the weight of depression and anxiety. Many endure profound sadness due to unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. Many have seen the lives of loved ones shattered by oppression and violence. We should mourn these things. Part of mourning is leaning into the reality of death and the brokenness of this world we live in: that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Advent is a season to cry out to God to come and deliver us from our pain; our sadness; from sin. The prayer of Advent is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The word Advent is from the Latin word advenire, which means “to come to.” Advent is about the various comings of Jesus. He came 2,000 years ago as God incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He will come again in glory to set up his everlasting kingdom over the new heavens and the new earth. But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus comes to us today, in the in-between-time. Jesus shows up every Sunday when we worship him. Jesus also shows up to intervene in various ways in our lives when we call out to him. So when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are not asking for the end to come. We are crying out for him to show up now and deliver us in our present situation.

As we enter into Christ’s life, we enter into the life of God’s people who have been trained through the millennia to hope and pray for peace, security, justice, and welfare (Psalm 122). Have we expected too little? Have our hopes been dulled by our sorrow? Great David’s greater Son is coming! Can we set our hopes to the whetstone of the Word, renew our sharp edges, and hope for something preposterous?

Will you join me in entering into the darkness this Advent season? To watch and pray? To rest? To simplify? To be still and quiet? To mourn? To see the moon and stars and believe that dawn is coming? To cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus?”

May you have a blessed Advent season.

For more Advent reflections, click here.

Featured image: St. Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Prayer Guide 2019

Here is a PDF copy of the guide along with sound files of all the music in the guide.

Lent 2019 Prayer Guide

To learn more about Lent, click here.

Lent Guide Music MIDI Files
Click on these files to hear the tunes for the songs in the guide.

 

Special thanks to John Hendrix who made the art for the guide.

 

Come, O Root!

Download my 2018 Advent prayer guide.

O Radix Jesse… These are the opening words of the traditional antiphon on Dec. 19 each year (that the cover art of this prayer guide depicts). In English the prayer is worded this way:

    O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

    before you kings will shut their mouths,

    to you the nations will make their prayer:

    Come and deliver us and delay no longer.

The “Root of Jesse” is an image used by the Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter. This “Root” will come and deliver the people Israel and extend their territory to the ancient boundaries promised to the Patriarch Abraham. Paul quotes Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:12 and interprets the prophecy not to be about the extension of the kingdom of Israel, but the gathering of the nations into the Church. Just as in Micah 7:11-12, Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed the Lord’s promise to Abraham, is fulfilled in the Church, whose boundaries extend to the ends of the earth and whose inhabitants include every tongue, tribe, and nation. The above prayer then is for the prophesied One to come and deliver us. The need is urgent. “Delay no longer!” we cry.

Root. Radix. The interesting thing about the concept of the Root of Jesse in the text of Isaiah is that it is not entirely clear who the Root is. Is Jesse the Root from which Christ springs? 11:1 certainly leads us in this direction. Or, on the other hand, is Jesus the Root from which Jesse springs? Verse 10 leads us in this direction. The answer to the question is, “Yes.” Jesus Christ is both the Root and the Shoot, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the author and the finisher of our faith. He is Ancient of Days and yet lately born. He ushers in the beginning and also the end. Jesus is the Root, the ancient ancestor of Jesse and also the Shoot, the one who springs forth from Jesse’s lineage to usher in the everlasting kingdom and the renewal of all things. Jesus is David’s son and David’s Lord.

Radix. This Latin word for “Root” is where we get the word radical. Jesus is radical. Jesus gets to the root of things and he calls us to get to the root of things. The word radix is also where we get our modern abbreviation for medicine. Rx is an abbreviation for radix because many ancient medicines were made from the roots of things. Jesus is radical. He gets at the root. He is our medicine. Come, O Root, and deliver us!

The most important thing to remember about Advent is that Advent is not Christmas. The word “advent” is from the Latin advenire which means “to come to.” Advent is a season reflecting on the “comings” of Jesus. There are three distinct comings of Jesus that are in view in the season of Advent. The first coming was in the past and was the birth of our Lord Jesus. The second coming is at the end of history and is the bodily return of Jesus Christ to judge the earth. Yet there is another coming of Jesus that we should not miss. The third coming is how we long for Jesus to appear and visit us now, in the present, to right wrongs and advance the kingdom of God in this world. In Advent we do cry out for Jesus to come again. But we also look for his coming to us today in his Word, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ who bear his image. Christ comes to us in all these ways, and we need him to come. We need him to visit us this Advent. Come and deliver us and delay no longer!

As we look around us we see a great need for The Root to come and deliver us. We have our own personal needs. We have the needs of our church and our community. There are national crises that we should be concerned about. We need the Lord to come. Now! we cry. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. This is the spirit of Advent.

The Good News is God will answer our cry for deliverance. The Root has come to set us free. The Root will come again to renew all things. And the Root promises to meet us in the here and now. He promises to be present with us through His Word. He promises to be present with us through his sacrament. He promises that when two or three of us are gathered together in His name, he will be smack dab in the middle of us.

This Advent let us commit ourselves to preparation and prayer in joyful and hopeful expectation that King Jesus will come and deliver us. Let us watch and pray and not give in to despair, though it seems he never hears us and never answers us. Many times, when we are praying we are expecting a big act of God, a mighty work, a life changing event. But often God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to give us a sustaining grace instead of that life changing event we prayed for.[1] We may wonder why he does this, when we know he has the power to move mountains and stop time. Maybe he does it because His greatest desire for us is that we would be satisfied with what he daily gives us in his regular, ordinary comings to us: The very substance of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is enough. Let us be satisfied with Him.

[1] I credit my friend, Pastor Thurman Williams for this idea.

Cover art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg. Click here to order her Advent art series.


Download my 2018 Advent Prayer guide here, and bookmark the link to listen to the tunes for all the psalms, canticles, and hymns: http://christourkingcolumbia.org/advent/

St. Ambrose of Milan – Savior of the Nations, Come

This is one of my favorite Advent hymns. It has some of the most powerful lines in the history of Christian hymnody, written by one of the first to really emphasize congregational participation in worship, Ambrose of Milan.

This hymn is also deeply theological. In Ambrose’s words we find the various theological controversies of the day reflected. Namely, the heresy of Arianism, which said that Jesus Christ was not fully divine, is combated in verse 4. Nestorianism, which argued that Jesus Christ was not fully human, is combated in verse 3. But beyond that, the hymn promotes the wonder and awe that we should all have when contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation. Verse three into the first phrase of verse 4 gives me goosebumps. Every time.

Give a listen to Christ Our King’s arrangement of this hymn from the 4th century. I hope it instills in you the wonder that it did for its first singers in Milan.

1 Savior of the nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

2 Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh —
Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.

3. Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.

4. Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.

 


Savior of the Nations, Come
St. Ambrose of Milan, 4th c.
Translation of verses 1 and 2 by William M. Reynolds, 19th c.
Translation of verse 3 by the Lutheran Service Book, 2006
Translation of verse 4 by F. Samuel Janzow, 20th c.

Tune: Johann Walter, Wittenburg, 16th c.
Arranged by: Timothy R. LeCroy 2016

Performed by Christ Our King Musicians
Vocals: Tim LeCroy and Liv Cordray
Violin: Erica Kallis
Piano: Liv Cordray
Guitar: Tim LeCroy
Bass: Tim LeCroy

 


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