This particular carol is not as popular as some of the others and I suspect it’s because it’s old and a little harder to sing. And when you read the words, you discover it’s not as Christmas-y as some of the more familiar ones.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
The hymn writer, Charles Wesley, looked beyond the birth to the greater purpose of Christ’s coming. You can trace it in the three requests Wesley makes.
Release us from our fears and sins.
Jesus’s coming set in motion the most dramatic phase of God’s salvation plan, the payment for our sins. Jesus willingly substituted His death for ours releasing us from the punishment we deserve, and the fear of facing God in judgment.
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Anytime I see rest in Scripture, I think of Eden and being restored to the relationship God intended for us all along. Before the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed access to God, and communion with Him without the intrusion of guilt and shame. It is the work of Christ that makes it possible.
But it also refers to the rest we have from trying to work to please God, or to earn our own salvation. We rest knowing that His work on our behalf was more than sufficient.
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
John the Baptist spent his ministry preaching repentance for the kingdom of heaven was at hand. And it was, but as Jesus later explained, His kingdom was not of this world. At least not yet. Just as the Jews looked expectantly for their Messiah, we look and long for a time when the gospel will rule in every heart and Christ Himself will rule in fact. It echoes the line in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.”
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we can’t help but anticipate the coming of Christ the King, and so the carol becomes our prayer, too.
Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.