Grace Notes: Advent 1

Lo, He comes with Clouds Descending!

Once for favored sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

The dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears;
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture,
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, Amen! Let all adore thee,
high on thy eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
claim the kingdom for thine own.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Everlasting God, come down!


This well-known hymn, of the Anglican world of the nineteenth century, draws upon an image in Revelation 1:7 of Jesus’ Second Advent and creates something of a counterpoint to today’s Gospel reading. The hymn turns the spotlight as it were, upon the One who, as King and Judge, arrives in glorious majesty, to defend and vindicate His chosen ones, suffering under the weight of various kinds of oppression.

In the Gospel reading, almost like a cry for help, Luke paints a picture of life that is devoid of Godly rule, in all its dismal detail.  In doing so, he sets the stage as it were, for the Advent of the Eternal One whose dreadful majesty (so described in our hymn) or omnipotence is able to liberate those being held captive and thereby, demonstrate His power over all creation.

There is no mistaking the pomp and circumstance that accompanies God’s incursion into the affairs of humankind, and as John’s Revelation implies (cf. Psalm 18:1-20), this in-breaking is in loving response to the utter chaos that we have, in large part brought upon and find ourselves powerless, to do anything about.

Fascinated as I am by the hymn’s almost palpable theme of coming judgment and the sense of awesome wonder that the tune Helmsley, which accompanies its verses evoke, I must confess to being drawn even more, to that beyond a literal reading of its words. The hymn provides a subtle yet unmistakable challenge, with respect to the preparation of our inner landscape.  In other words, it enjoins getting our hearts ready, for the daily incursions of the divine, that make the journey towards that final Advent, one that, being replete with God’s presence and guided by God’s wisdom, becomes that much easier to navigate.

There’s an interesting paragraph in a little book* that continues to inspire me. The words of that paragraph, I believe, speak to the mandatory preparation of heart, which I believe is the essence of Advent and towards which our hymn points.  It reads…

“We in contemporary society place a great deal of emphasis on security, on having the material, psychological, and even spiritual resources to attain our goals but in Zen, the focus in not on obtaining something that will make us secure; it is on dropping things so we have ‘space’ within us where egoism doesn’t live, greed is absent and preconceived notions don’t block our clear, appreciative vision of life.”

I hope you were not distracted by the word Zen but rather, being cognizant of the vastness of the universe and the fact that as children of One God, there is much we can learn, even from those who do not share our faith perspectives, you will appreciate the point being made that when our first priority is enabling the Kingdom, where God alone is allowed to reign (see Matthew 6: 33), the things of this world, with their many and varied distractions, begin to grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.  In other words, when our sole objective is the reign of God in and over our lives, we begin to lose the taste for anything that does not accord thereto and find, without much doing on our part, that they begin to dissipate, leaving room for God to do in, with and through us, all that brings Him glory.

There is no denying the chaos and uncertainty of our times and the challenges of the expanding sea of lawlessness that surround us here in our islands. The season of Advent, therefore, enjoins a deliberate and intentional attitude of stepping away…from the noise of the mercantile holiday activities, to experience divine stilling.  Advent is that time, in the rhythm of our liturgical experiences, to pause and reflect…upon that which is life-giving and hence eternal. It is a time to remember that although the Incarnation is a historical event, God comes to us again and again, by the power of His Spirit and as such, offers us countless opportunities, to prepare for His ultimate reign.

So, with the eyes of our hearts, let us look for and perceive Him, coming on clouds of His Almighty Word, descending into hearts that have been de-cluttered: anxiously awaiting His entrance. For lo He comes, again and again, bearing the tattoos of His passion as a reminder that nothing we can experience, is beyond His power to redeem. And so, in the midst of our pains, in the midst of our hurts, in the midst of those heart-concerns, known only to Him, we can be assured that He comes and in coming… sets His children free.

I pray that we: you and I, will be deliberately intentional, in hushing the noise of human strife and, joining the angelic host, make our song…Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Everlasting God, come down, come into our hearts…and reign!

– Contributed by: Canon Grace Jervis


*Everyday Simplicity: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Growth by Robert J. Wicks