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Ellsworth Kalas ~ Advent with Charles Wesley: Singing all the Way

Here at the beginning of another Advent season I ponder again that I didn’t know there was such a thing as Advent until I was a young man. In the Methodism of my childhood we began singing Christmas hymns and carols as soon as we heard them on the radio, which was of course at the beginning of the shopping season. It was a while before I fell in love with Charles Wesley’s great Advent hymn, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

This hymn is one of Charles’ first, published in 1744 in a little 24-page booklet, Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord. Before I go further, however, let me say that there was a certain logic in our singing Christmas carols weeks before Christmas. After all, why sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” when he was already here?

It took me a while to realize that I needed to sing the Old Testament so I was ready to sing the New. That is, we need to recognize how our world got lost; only then will we understand why God sent his Son to find it. I had to remember that we humans have needed Jesus from the time we stumbled out of Eden, and that our hearts have longed for him ever since Eve heard that her seed would crush the serpent’s head. When Charles Wesley prays, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,” he is reminding us that our longing for Jesus is as old as the human heart.

We also need to remember that while Jesus came to our planet some twenty centuries ago, he hasn’t yet come to every heart. Charles Wesley said that Jesus was born to set his people free. But we aren’t all free. As we go through shopping malls where the music tells us consecutively that Mommy was seen kissing Santa Claus and that there’s joy to the world, God is not much in the thoughts of those hurrying through the stores. Know it or not, most of them are still waiting for Jesus to come.

And still more. Our grand Wesleyan message offers a full salvation. Wesley put it succinctly. Jesus was “born a child and yet a King,” and as a King he was “born to reign in us forever.” Christmas is wonderfully sentimental, and I confess unashamedly that I love every moment of its sentiment. But there’s something tough about Christmas, too. Jesus has come, not to be cuddled, but to be our King.

That’s a tough word. Jesus isn’t waiting to be elected president. He isn’t hoping for the last precinct to raise him to office. He is King, whether I vote for him or not. The question, rather, is whether I acknowledge him as my King and become part of his Kingdom. Specifically, whether I am ready to grow up into his likeness, by submitting to his will.

So it’s Advent, and it’s just in time. Because in the Kingdom of my soul there’s an area hidden away from the King, recent territory where I haven‘t yet let him in. It’s time for Advent, time to make full room for our King.


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