December 3, 2022
Midweek Advent - Week 2
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My parents, growing up, usually always had the radio on in the car tuned to 101.9–Lite 102. Unfortunately, that radio station dies just south of Frederick. They play Today's Hits and yesterday favorites. My parents were not the kind of people who listen to top 40 charts. My dad liked 1950's rock and roll and classical music. My mom liked soft rock like Elton John and Wayne Newton. Lite 102 was a pretty good mash up of songs they liked and were not too offensive to little ears. At night on Lite 102, Fran Lane hosted a late night show and would play requests. Every once and a while, I would grab the home phone and call in to see if Fran would play my favorite song—Cat's in the Cradle by Harry Chapin. Regardless of when it came on the radio, I would demand that they turn it up so that I could hear and sing along.
A mix of folk, rock, and orchestra, it tells a story of Harry Chapin's unintentionally-strained-relationship with his son due to his demanding work schedule as a musician. I remembering begging my parents for a cassette tape of the song so that I could play it whenever I wanted. When I first heard it, I think it was the words of the refrain that capture my attention:
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
That was all stuff that I could relate to as a 4/5 year kid. I knew about that stuff. The cadence of the words also made it easy to remember. The older I grew, the less I would tell anyone that My favorite song is "Cat's in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. In the words of Kevin McCallister from Home Alone "You can get beat up for wearing something like that." But as I grown and have kids of my own now, those words from Chapin's cult-classic-song have a different feel and meaning—and ultimately remains one of my favorite songs.
Every time I hear that song, it makes go into some self reflection. The other day it came on as I was just sitting in my office. I started thinking about when Thomas took his first steps and how I missed it because I was at meeting for church. You know, I long for the days of those early moments of Thomas's life and I hold a deep sense of loss over not treasuring them more. When Isaiah was born, I was home a lot more mainly because Covid forced us to stay home. And because of that, I got to see a lot more Isaiah's first moments. And I got to tell you, I treasure those memories and I totally get that feeling of regret that is so intertwined into Chapin's song:
"When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when"
But we'll get together then You know we'll have a good time then.
Before I had kids, I loved going to different conferences throughout the US. I loved getting out there and exploring while also improving myself and my ministry potential. Now that I have two kids, I hate leaving them over night. If I do need to leave, I always FaceTime in for bedtime. Back in September, I was asked to come back to my internship site and preach as part of their anniversary celebration. I really wanted to take both of my boys but decided a 6 hour drive with the youngest who hates being in a car for more than hour was a bad idea. Thomas and I had a blast down in South-West Virginia. We went train watching, ate a lot of pizza, swam in the hotel pool. Don't get me wrong, it was a lot of work caring for him, driving 12 hours total, preaching to group of people who helped formed me into the pastor that I am today, but I would do it again in a heart beat and I will certainly try to find a way to make sure Isaiah is there next time.
But as we move into this very busy season of the church year, I find myself out more for church than I am home. I remember one night leaving two year-old Thomas three days before Christmas to go back out for a meeting at church. ’Daddy, when am I going to be where you are?’” Daddy, why can't you stay here with me. Daddy, come home.
How fitting that my son was crying for me during a season of the church year when we all collectively cry, "Come, Lord Jesus." A season of the year where Chapin's secular words seem to resonate with our general religious theme of anticipation and hope that our Lord's return is near. As I concluded my sermon this past Sunday on the promise of God preparing a new reality for us all, I felt this overwhelming desire to pray in my head, over and over, the phrase, "Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus."
"Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus" even as the work continues to pile up on my desk and the weight of moving our family to a new home.
"Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus" even with the promise of two babies coming this spring.
After I got home last night from work, I found myself exhausted and unable to accomplished any of the tasks on my lengthy to-do list. All I ended up doing was watching The Santa Clause on the couch with Thomas while Isaiah destroyed the house. My reoccurring prayer this Advent season is that simple phrase, "Amen. Come, Lord, Jesus" not because I want to see the end of the world, but because I am tired and could really use the shoulder of our Lord right now. Do you feel that way?
Yet, as I think about Jesus's return, I also think about this through the perspective of my teenage years. The to-do list my parents left my brother and I every morning during summer break and the frantic rush in the last hour to do everything we put off doing during the day before they arrived home. My wife regularly asked how I learned to fix things and I told her it was because I would break things at home and had to figure out a way to fix it before my parents came (or at least hide it in a way that they didn't notice it until I had a chance to fix it). The stairwell at our home has been patch more times than I can remember by myself with just minutes to spare before my parents came through the door. Having Jesus return makes me feel a little like I use to as a teenager—what is Jesus going say about how we have treated the place since he left? All those who want to bring about the destruction of the world in-order to usher in our Lord's return, I think, are taking way to much of a chance with Jesus be happy with the mess we have left him to clean up just like my parents were angry with me and my brother when we left the house a mess. It is because of this dichotomy that Advent holds for us that I really love this hymn—Come, thou long expected Jesus.
It was written by Charles Wesley in the 1700's and first appeared in hymnals around 1791. Wesley, who was founder of the Methodist Church, is a prolific song writer whose style of hymnody completely changed the way we sing in America. If you don't believe me, look at Martin Luther's hymn "A might fortress is our God (ELW 503...not 504)" or better yet, look at hymn 411--We all Believe in One True God. This was Luther's sung version of the creed for his Deutsche Messe. I like it, but try to get the congregation to sing that...We just don't sing that way anymore and it because of hymn writers and composers like Charles Wesley. I am not saying he wrote better, easier songs, rather he simply changed the way we approach and hear music.
Wesley does some interesting things with this hymn. He uses something called "false rhymes" when he got backed into a corner with the lyrics. A true rhyme matches both the vowel sound of a word and the ending consonants. ‘Corn’ and ‘born’ are perfect, true rhymes. ‘Corn’ and ‘storm’ are false, imperfect rhymes – because the ending consonants do not match. These false rhymes are there, but you never would notice them unless they get pointed out (I know this because I didn't notice it until I was reading up on this hymn):
Because of the usage of false rhymes, Wesley is able to write a hymn that keeps his theology in tact while not losing the most important part of any hymn—cadence. These words from Wesley have a way of singing to us even when their is no music present.
Wesley also uses a lot of repetition to make some key themes more obvious. For example, in the second stanza, he repeats the word “born” at the beginning of three consecutive lines to really drive home the idea of the incarnation. When you sing verse 2, you know the point Wesley is trying to make--that Jesus was born to deliver, born a child as well as a king, and he was born to not reign for a short time as other earthly monarchs, but will reign forever.
But my favorite part of this hymn is the music. There are two/three traditional tunes that go along with this hymn.
"The first is STUTTGART, a tune attributed to Christian F. Witt in the eighteenth century. Hymnologist Paul Westermeyer describes this tune as a “bold and sturdy congregational melody that stands on its own and bears repetition.”
The second tune often used is HYFRYDOL, a Welsh tune composed by Rowland Prichard in 1830, and commonly associated with “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” Singing the piece slowly and a cappella with the congregation is a powerful way of expressing the simple longing the text evokes.
But the tune that I most like with these words is Jefferson. Jefferson is part of the Southern Harmony collection. Southern Harmony is part of the larger Shape Note style of singing. Shape note was a way to teach people music and songs...Each note was a different shape which helped teach kids and adults learn how to sing. (Play) The reason Wesley did not originally used this tune for his prolific tune is because it had not yet been written, but had it been around, I think this would have been his top choice.
Because it is set in a minor key and not in a major key, we are left with that uneasy feeling while we sing it, which is exactly like the reality we find ourselves in during Advent. You know, I am not someone who regularly partakes in joyous, happy things in church. I don't like the idea that we switch the color of Advent from purple to blue because I like the introspection that comes from reflecting on my sins. You know, not everything has to end like a Hallmark Christmas Movie. But I also get the hope thing about advent...ya de ya de da. But when we sing this hymn using the Jefferson tune, we are embracing this reality that questions whether we really want Jesus to come back and Judge us? As it says in the Nicene Creed: "He will come again to JUDGE the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end." Not even death gets you a get-out-jail-free-card.
"Come thou long expected Jesus leans into this very dichotomy and allows us to live in both of these spheres. For though we know that Christ goes with us and before us every day, we long for the day when we are with Him in all of the fullness and glory He will bring. We long for the day when we are with Him in a New Heaven and New Earth, when all things are made new. And just as a four-year-old crawls into his father’s arms after an extended absence, so too we long for the day when we will be at rest in Christ, enfolded in the embrace of our Savior." When are you coming home, Dad? When are you coming back, Jesus? I hope you like what we have done with the place since you have been gone. Save us from ourselves. May we live into this holy dichotomy, not just in our singing of this hymn, but every day of our lives and may we continue to fervently pray, Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.