Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Other "Harks" Ye Knew Not Of

For this season of Advent at Hope Chapel we have preached our way through a standard of Christmas hymns. My father began the series on Dec. 2 (as guest preacher) by expositing the 4th century hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." I followed the week after with Charles Wesley's "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus." It was a great experience to be able to do both poetic analysis and theological exegesis. On Dec. 16 Steve Hawthorne took up the two hymns "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Joy to the Word." The series concluded with Dan Davis handling both "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."
It was this past Sunday that I found out something I'd not known: that Wesley's "Hark" was originally written as a ten-verse poem. Ten verses. As with many of the 6,500 hymns plus that he wrote, there was usually more to be read than we would ever get to sing.
I'm posting here the last four verses as an aid to meditation on the Incarnation. I'm tempted sorely to grab one of our musicians at Hope so we could turn the text into a new hymn. I would rise ecstatically to the heavens if I could sing this with the music of King's College or Sufjan Stevens (or even David Crowder). Give me such good words and I am the happiest camper on the block.
I pray you would know the deep and mystic love of Jesus Christ for you on this Christmas day.
Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner Man:
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Dear Pilgrim, Take Hope" -- an Advent reflection

I wrote a brief reflection for an Advent Reader that Regent College produced and thought I'd share it here. I offer it as an encouragement for our souls in this somewhat blistering season of work, shopping, noise, friendship, deadlines, disappointments, worship, anxieties, expectations, laughter, and preparation for Christ's coming.



A Reflection on Isaiah 35:1-10

I don't know if my pecan trees are old and tired or young and tired.

I live in a neighborhood where pecan trees rise eighty to hundred feet high into the burning Texas sky, towering reddish-brown canopies, silent bearers of a buttery fruit. But this year they've turned strange. All summer long they've been falling apart, losing limbs—with a kind of wild fever. Thick, scaly branches rip away, crack the air with an unnerving screeching sound then plummet with a whoosh and whirl of leaves and a ka-whoomp into the ground. All down my block, day and night, branches crash on top of cars and roofs and lawns . . . yielding up a great whine of chainsaws.

Good things that should be strong and enduring are falling apart: trees, marriages, Olympic athletes, childhood dreams, homes in New Orleans, old books, friendships, a beautiful pair of shoes, the human heart. Seeing so much brokenness makes us sad and even despair.

But the words of Isaiah interrupt our downward spiral. Hang in there, dear pilgrim. Brokenness will not have the last word.

The Lord speaks:

Strengthen weakened hands
Make firm feeble knees
Say to those who are fearful-hearted:
"Be strong! Do not fear!"

Blind, deaf, lame, and dumb—of body and heart—will be made whole. Wastelands will blossom. The hot sands will become a cool oasis. Wrongs will be made right. And the redeemed of our beautiful King will come dancing home with halos of everlasting joy.

There is a tiredness in the earth, I suppose, that has nothing to do with age. It is a tiredness of living in a world where things fall apart, break down. Yet the prophet calls out to us: Dear pilgrim, take hope.

Gladness and joy shall overtake thee
Sorrows and sighing shall flee away!
(PAINTING: Jim Janknegt's Annunciation, "Joyful Mystery")