Hymn 64 is an Advent hymn. Advent is a “three tense” season: the past and the future unite in our present worship.
In the American Heritage Dictionary, the first part of the definition for the word advent is “The coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note.” In the Advent part of the church calendar, we look back to the first Advent (coming) of Christ, His birth in Bethlehem, when God came to mankind as a man in order to redeem the world to Himself. But even more than this sacred past, Advent is a time when we look forward to a sacred future, when this same Redeemer of mankind will return—not this time as a lowly manger-born infant—but rather as the One to Whom every knee shall bow and about Whom every tongue shall “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).
Distinctively Scriptural hymns are an important part of our Lutheran heritage. Hymn 64, for example, is based on Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen.” From that text, William Hiley Bathurst1 distills the ardent yearning of the Christian for that second Advent. He writes (v.1),
“Thy Church with longing eyes
For Thine expected coming waits.”
We need this reminder, don’t we? We need it especially in times such as ours, when much of our society is becoming not merely indifferent, but actively hostile, to Christians and Christianity. In times such as ours, we are comforted that
“E’en now, when tempests round us fall
And wintry clouds o’er cast the sky,
Thy words with pleasure we recall
And deem that our redemption’s nigh.”
Do you remember what it felt like to be a young child as Christmas day approached? Do you remember your eager impatience for what you wanted right now, and how hard it was to wait? And do you also recall the feelings you had a few days after Christmas? For many, the joys of Christmas are followed by a “let down” because that happy time has passed, and will not come again for another entire year.
Advent is like the first part of that sequence, but without any of the last part. We may be somewhat impatient for the second Advent of Christ—and the greater our sorrows and troubles in this world, the greater will be our impatience for His return. We may be impatient, but still we know that the coming of Christ in glory at the proper time cannot fail, because it has been promised by Him Who cannot lie. Moreover, there will be no later “let down” after His return. Rather, we shall experience joy and love far beyond what we can presently even imagine, and we shall do so eternally, solely by God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus. So we pray along with Bathurst,
“Teach us in watchfulness and prayer
To wait for the appointed hour
And fit us by Thy grace to share
The triumphs of Thy conquering power.”
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.