Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jesus' Cousin Charles

(Read Psalm 146)

If there is anyone who has lived out the opening verses of this psalm, it may be Charles Wesley. Born 300 years ago today (December 18, 1707), Wesley has passed on a legacy of countless hymns that have taught generations theological truths, mixed with powerful images from the Bible, as well as literary illusions from his time, and classical illusions, as well.

What would Advent be without Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus or Lo! He comes with clouds descending? Or, what would a Christmas Eve (or Day) service be without singing Hark! The Herald Angels Sing?

One of the great powers these songs have is they help us to focus on the Advent theme of Jesus' coming again. In our rush to get to the manger to throw a big party for the baby, we often forget that there was a promise born that day in that barn, a promise that was sealed at the cross, and will be fulfilled with the return of our Lord.

Sadly (IMHO), in the reworking of some of Wesley's lyrics, to be more inclusive as well as use more familiar words, we have lost the understanding (so true to the gospel) he had of all creation responding to the birth of Jesus, and the biblical truth that all creation will be healed, restored, given new life by the One born on Christmas Day.

Wesley's original opening two verses for Hark! the herald angels sing show this:
Hark, how all the welkin ring!
'Glory to the King of Kings,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say
'Christ the Lord is born today!

Such words echo the praise of the psalmist who hopes in the one who made 'heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.'

Wesley's hymns help us to keep our feet on solid ground, gospel ground, as we continue to walk to Bethlehem. So keep praising the Lord by singing those marvelous gifts Wesley has graced to us!

Prayer: Even as we get ready to celebrate your birth once again, come to us, Joy of our longing hearts. Come, so we may see you robed in compassion; come, so we may see you handing out gifts of justice and freedom to the oppressed; come, so we may feel your warm welcome, even as you embrace those we have ignored. Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

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