IN NOMINE JESU
One of the things I have striven to do during our time together in our praying Vespers this Advent is to give you some background information regarding some of the classic Advent hymns of the Church. The challenge in doing this is that there is not always a lot of history on these hymns. Tonight's hymn is one such hymn. We do not know who wrote this great hymn. Some people have credited Ambrose, author of "Savior of the Nations, Come," but most scholars have determined that the author is the world-famous "Anonymous." We are not sure, either, of when it was written, but it is generally accepted that it was written between the fifth and tenth centuries, somewhere between 400 and 1000 AD. Its first use came in the tenth century and was used during Lauds, a morning prayer office (not entirely unlike Matins, but prayed at sunrise). The hymn, quite possibly sung as a canticle, was used during Lauds beginning with the First Sunday in Advent and ending with the praying of the office on Christmas Eve. In an old Spanish rite, it was used in Vespers (the office prayed at sunset), the hymn sung each Wednesday. This hymn was translated into English by a mid-nineteenth century Anglican-turned-Roman Catholic priest named Edward Caswall. The composer of the tune in also unknown, though it first appeared in a hymnal approximately 300 years ago.
The first line of this hymn, as Caswall translated it, originally read, "Hark, an awful voice is sounding." But the word awful was replaced, no doubt because there is nothing awful, for those who believe in Jesus Christ, about the news that Christ is nigh. It is thrilling indeed! The thrilling voice that is sounding is the voice crying out in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord," the voice of John the Baptizer. The thrilling voice of the forerunner of Christ is also sounding a message of repentance: "Cast away the works of darkness." In stanza two we react, startled at the solemn warning to repent. It is not a warning we are used to receiving. But even as we are adjusting our ears to hear this Advent message of repentance, we prepare our souls to greet the Christ who shines upon the morning skies.
In the third stanza we sing of the coming of the long-expected Lamb of God, coming "with pardon down from heaven." The Latin word translated as "pardon" is gratis, from which we get the English word grace. This is important as we look at the second half of this stanza: "Let us haste, with tears of sorrow, One and all, to be forgiven." Why should we be in haste to be forgiven? We are in the last days, and the Lord will come again soon, at which time there will be no second chances for forgiveness. Why are we to be in sorrow? We should be in sorrow because we need to be forgiven. We should be in sorrow because we have sinned. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As sinners, we are in sorrow that we, by and of ourselves, cannot come to Him; we cannot begin to dare to approach His throne because we are poor, miserable sinners and have deserved nothing but temporal and eternal death and punishment. When we think of what we by our sins have deserved, that we should be in should spend eternity in hell, we should be in sorrow to the point that we are on our knees, trembling, and crying to the Lord as we did earlier: "Make haste, O God, to deliver me. Make haste to help me, O Lord." And so we "haste, with tears of sorrow, One and all, to be forgiven."
Because we in our sorrowful, sinful state cannot come to our Lord, He comes to us. "Lo, the Lamb, so long expected, comes with pardon down from heaven." The Lord, who once lay in a manger and wore swaddling cloths, came to bring pardon, peace, forgiveness, life, and salvation. Behold, He comes to bring about forgiveness. He comes to bring us His peace, that peace that the world cannot give. He came not in haste but at the time appointed by our heavenly Father, coming in the fullness of time. And at the right time, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. "Once He came in blessing, All our ills redressing; Came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy; Bore the cross to save us, Hope and freedom gave us" (TLH 74:1).
In the fourth stanza of our hymn, we look forward to the Last Day, "when next He comes with glory / And the world is wrapped in fearů." Yes, the world, the unbelieving world, will come face to face with their Judge and will live in eternal death and condemnation. They will be wrapped in fear, while we are robed in the righteousness of Christ, and He will shield us with His mercy. It is not a question of if He may have mercy on us but that He will and does shield us with His mercy. Our Lord shields us in His mercy, and no one can snatch us out of our heavenly Father's hand. He has called us by name from the moment we became baptized in and into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We belong to Him, and He draws us nearer to Him with His words of love, words of Gospel, words of forgiveness, words that tell us that our heavenly Father has forgiven us for the sake of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Having received this forgiveness and moved by the Holy Spirit, we give "Honor, glory, might, dominion, To the father and the Son, with the everlasting Spirit, While eternal ages run" (st. 5).
In one week we will celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts to once again celebrate the birth of the Savior of all mankind. During this penitential season we reflect upon our own sinfulness and our need for a Savior. In one week we will rejoice that the Savior of the Nations has come, that Emmanuel has come and ransomed us, captive Israel, and that the thrilling voice is sounding that Christ is nigh and will come again and gather us to be with Him. In one week we will "all with gladsome voice / Praise the God of heaven, Who, to bid our hearts rejoice, His own Son hath given" (TLH 97:1). In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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