Advent Hymns: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Advent Hymns: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus December 22, 2014

This is the fourth and final installment of my series on the great hymns of Advent. To learn more about Advent, you can read the introductory post: On Advent: What It Is & Why You Need It.

Part 1 on the hymns of Advent can be read here: O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Part 2 can be read here: A Hymn of Advent.

Part 3 can be read here: Savior of the Nations, Come.

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley and Come Thou Precious Ransom by Johann Gottfried Olearius arranged and performed by Page CXVI from Advent to Christmas (2013)

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

Come, Thou precious ransom,
Come, O Savior of the World!
Come, Thy beauty let us see,
Anxiously we wait for Thee

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

HISTORY OF THE HYMN

On this final Sunday of Advent, our focus is on a medley of two great Advent hymns: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus and Come Thou Precious Ransom.

The first hymn, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus was written by Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Charles Wesley, younger brother to John Wesley, is among God’s greatest gifts to the church. With his brother, he is co-founder of Methodism though he is perhaps best known for his poetry and hymns. A prolific writer, he penned over 6,000 hymns and ranks among the greatest of poet-saints. [1] This hymn is but one gem among many on the beautiful crown of Wesley’s great corpus. Come Though Long Expected Jesus was first published in 1745 in a small collection of Wesleyan hymns called Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord.

The other hymn, Come Thou Precious Ransom, was written by Johannes Gottfried Olearius (1635-1711). Page CXVI includes only a short portion of one stanza of this hymn. Originally written in German, Johannes penned this hymn in 1664 and it was translated into English some 250 years later by August Crull in the early part of the 20th century. Johannes G. Olearius was a Luther pastor, theologian, writer and compiler of hymns. This is certainly his best-known hymn in the English-speaking world.

REFLECTIONS ON THE HYMN

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus feels like the Advent hymn par excellence. Strictly speaking, however, it does not play by the rules. For the purist, Advent knows nothing of Jesus. Advent knows only of longing, of expectancy, of waiting – for God to be sure – but the object of this longing contains not the name of Jesus. That God would come was expected. That God would come in an ultimate way in the God-man Jesus was wholly unexpected. In referring to Jesus and the Incarnation, the hymn lets the proverbial cat out of the bag and so crosses the threshold of Advent prematurely.

Still, Wesley’s great hymn contains all the stuff Advent hitting on the major themes including the longing for redemption, salvation, hope, rest, and the establishment of God’s kingdom. Though it may offend the sensibilities of Advent-purists, I want to focus on the first half of the second stanza:

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring

Advent culminates in the great climax of the birth of Messiah Jesus, the Son of God. This is the great moment that Israel – and indeed all the world – had long been awaiting. The world was waiting for God’s coming but it was not prepared for Advent’s denouement: the Incarnation of the Word.

Advent leads the way to Christmas Day, where Mary delivers a child who would be the deliverer of all God’s children. The great surprise of Advent is Christmas: that God Himself would be born in human flesh, that the King of the Universe would be a humble child.

And, as the hymn suggests, this Davidic King would not simply reign OVER God’s people, restoring an earthly kingdom over and against Rome, the contemporaneous political oppressor of God’s people. This King would also reign IN his people through the Spirit. The kingdom of Christ the King is a kingdom of peace – what the Hebrews called shalom. Isaiah prophesied the birth of this child-King writing: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (shalom). (Isa 9:6) And so, it is no surprise that Paul exhorts Christians to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col 3:15).

In our version of the hymn, Page CXVI selected the verse from Come, Thou Precious Ransom that tells us precisely how Jesus would bring his gracious kingdom. God would come and establish his kingdom by giving his life as a precious ransom in order to purchase our redemption. According to the Gospel of Mark, this is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of Jesus’ mission: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).

NERD ALERT: A NOTE ON CRULL’S TRANSLATION

Before wrapping up, I’d like suggest an alternative translation of Come, Thou Precious Ransom. The translation into English by Albert Crull, makes for a fine hymn but misses the mark in terms of what seems to be the intended meaning of the third and fourth lines.

Olearius’ original words are:

Komm in ungewohnter Zier,       3rd line
Komm, wir warten mit Begier!   4th line

Rather than “Come, thy beauty let us see,” the 3rd line is better rendered “Come in unexpected beauty.” This captures the strange way in which God comes and then ransoms his people. God comes in an unexpected way namely through taking on flesh and then sacrificing His own flesh as a ransom in order to be the savior of the world. Though Isaiah writes that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” and the crucifixion of the Son of God was the ugliest event in the history of the world, there is still a sense in which Jesus’ coming is a startling, unexpected beauty.

Likewise, the fourth line would be better rendered in another way. For some reason ol’ Albert Crull decided to do away with the repetition of “Come…”. I think a better translation would be “Come, we wait expectantly.” There’s no good reason to exclude the repetition “Come” since it’s clearly in the German text. Further, “anxiously” is a strange word choice for translating Begier since “eagerly” connotes a similar sense of longing but is more positive. Plus, my translation juxtaposes the expectation of God’s coming with the unexpected manner of His Advent.

To wrap up these series on Advent hymns, I’ll end with a fivefold refrain from our medley

Come, Thou precious ransom,                  Komm, du wets Lösegeld,
Come, O Savior of the World!                   Komm, o Heiland aller Welt,
Come, in unexpected beauty,                    Komm in ungewohnter Zier,
Come, we wait expectantly                        Komm, wir warten mit Begier!

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

Thanks for taking the time to read through this series on Advent hymns. I really would love your feedback… if you enjoyed this let me know as I’m considering a similar series on Lenten hymns leading up to Easter.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/people/charleswesley_1.shtml


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