Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus: An Advent Homily (Luke 2:22-38)

Charles Wesley (1707-88), penned the moving words to "Come, Thou long expected Jesus"

Charles Wesley (1707-88), penned the moving words to “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”

Note to the reader: I preached this homily at the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene yesterday (15 December 2013) near Johannesburg, South Africa. We celebrated worship on the same morning that the nation buried former President Nelson Mandela, following a week of memorial services and loving remembrances.

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SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 2:25-38 (CEB)

I. INTRODUCTION

Have you ever waited so long for something that you wondered if it would ever come about?

Perhaps some of you are now past the average marriage age, and you wonder if you will ever find “the one.” Or in a tough economy with high unemployment, you’ve been searching for a good job for what seems like forever.

It’s Christmas time, and with Christmas childhood memories flood back. One year, my grandma sent a big box in the mail several weeks before Christmas Day. We opened it up, and inside were many packages carefully wrapped, one for each of us in the family. Dad put the gifts under the tree, and of course my brothers and I did what children do. When our parents weren’t looking, we’d pick up our present, shake it to see what noise it made, anything to help guess what was inside.

It seemed like we waited so long for Christmas Day! Finally, the wait got the best of us. Very early on Christmas morning when Dad and Mom were still asleep, I heard noise coming from the living room. Quietly, I made my way down the staircase, and found my two older brothers shining flashlights around the room! Of course, I opened mine up, too, and joined in the fun. Then, we carefully wrapped them up again and put them under the tree. The next morning, when it came time to open presents, we opened the gift from grandma. “Oh look! A flashlight!” we said, pretending like we hadn’t seen it before. It was hard to wait all the way to Christmas.

II.  ISRAEL’S LONG WAIT: BACKGROUND TO LUKE 2:22-38

Whether it’s waiting for marriage, employment, or just opening up a Christmas present, one thing is sure: Waiting can be tough. That was certainly the case for Israel. There was about a 400 year silence between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament. Malachi was the last Jewish prophet upon whom the spirit of prophecy had rested, and he wrote around 350 b.c. In those closing words of the Old Covenant, Malachi 4:5 spoke of Elijah the prophet coming “before the great and terrible day of the LORD” (CEB). Luke clearly considered John the Baptist an Elijah-like figure. In Luke 1:44, we even have the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, her cousin. Both women were expecting babies, and the yet-to-be-born John leaps for joy when he hears the voice of Mary.

And now after this long silence, the spirit of prophecy is back in full force. The Holy Spirit is speaking again, and this time it’s to an old priest, Simeon, and to an old prophetess, Anna. The Spirit says to them that the long wait is almost over. Look at Luke 2:26:

The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

The term “Christ” comes from the Greek word, Christos. It means the “anointed One.” In Hebrew, the equivalent term is maschiach, the Messiah. Simeon and Anna were about to see the Saviour for whom they had waited so long!

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Charles Wesley’s masterpiece, “Wrestling Jacob”

At the time of his brother Charles’ death in 1788, John Wesley praised him for his keen poetic talent. Specifically, he mentioned Charles’ masterpiece, “Wrestling Jacob.” The fourteen stanza poem is a reflection on the character of God as summed up in a single word: love.  The poem appears below. Leave your reaction in the comment thread. Do you agree that God’s nature can be boiled down to love?

Wrestling Jacob

1) Come, O thou traveller unknown, 

Whom still I hold, but cannot see,

My company before is gone,

And I am left alone with thee,

With thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle to the break of day.

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Charles Wesley in battle mode

I’ve been researching a paper for the upcoming meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society, to be held at Trevecca Nazarene University in early March. The paper is titled:

Christus Victor: A Wesleyan Appraisal of sub-Saharan Power Christology”

In the first part of the paper, I’m looking at primary sources, and will be focusing particularly on the sermons of John Wesley and his New Testament Notes as well as the hymns of Charles Wesley. In my doctoral research, I was looking at his hymns in relation to another theme, so this time around with new eyes on the material,  I’ve been pleasantly surprised to uncover some amazing verse on the theme of the conquering Christ. Here are stanzas 5-7 of a hymn based on Rev. 2:8-9:

We then the power of faith shall prove

Nor shrink from persecution near,

But more than conquer in thy love,

Thy perfect love which casts out fear.

Tho’ earth and hell at once engage,

And fiends, and formal saints conspire,

The synagogue of Satan rage,

And threaten us with racks and fire;

Bold shall we stand in thy great might,

For Jesu’s sake count all things loss,

With beasts, and men, and devils fight

Beneath the banner of thy cross.

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