Who love the Lord’s appearing, O glorious Sun now come, Send forth You beams so cheering, and guide us safely home. In the name of Jesus + Amen.
The sermons for these midweek services over the four weeks of Advent are going to be based on our Office Hymn for the night. For this Vespers Service it is: O Lord, How Shall I Meet You. The great Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt wrote the text to this hymn and Johann Cruger composed the tune. Cruger first published this in 1653 in his hymn compilations under the heading: On the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It was the well known hymn translator, Catherine Winkworth, who in 1863 translated it into English in her Chorale Book for England.
At its core the text is about sin, forgiveness, and Christ’s incarnation as a necessity for the salvation of sinners. Stanzas 1 through 4 are addressed to Christ, with singers engaging in a personal reflection in the first-person singular. Stanza 2 recalls Christ’s Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, the text we had for the Advent 1 Gospel on Sunday. Stanzas 3 and 4 are the heart of Gerhardt’s hymn. 3 contrasts the sinner’s bondage and shame with the freedom and honor given because God’s Son was willing to become incarnate for sinners. In stanza four it is entirely a matter of His love (a word repeted five times in this stanza) for “our lost and fallen race” and of His “thirst for my salvation.”
Stanza 5 is a gem of pure Gospel proclamation- Christ’s first coming was for the purpose of “procuring the peace of sin forgiven.” Stanza 6 points singers to Christ’s second coming to judge the nations- a terror to His enemies who reject Him in unbeleief, but to those who love His appearing, “a light of consolations” and the “blessed hope” that will “guide us safely home.” It’s about the consequences for all who believe. It is to be a joy in the coming Second Advent.
Gerhardt and his hymn are theological. The Lutheran Service Book contains seventeen of his hymns. In German hymnbooks he has thirty hymns (outnumbered in those German hymnbooks only by Martin Luther. In the beginning of the 17th century, the manifold territories of the Holy Roman Empire in Germany continued to be plagued by confessional conflicts. Gerhardt’s mother’s family had experienced banishment from house and home as his grandfather, Pastor Kaspar Starke of Eilenburg, held steadfast to the Book of Concord in the face of the political pressures imposed by the vacillating confessional allegiances of territorial rulers…..Yeah, see, I bet you didn’t know or realize how precious our hold is on our confessional documents of this Lutheran Confessional Church we are in. They were considered much more important and of value than many people see them today. Gerhardt was labeled one of the most faithful confessional guys and pastor in his lifetime back then. It appears that his poetic skills that were awakened at the royal Grimma academy in Saxony, would inform his hymnody as he read Latin classical poetry and studied hymns and songs that had been composed on the basis of biblical, and especially Old Testament texts.
He lived during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) and in it his homeland, family home, church, and entire village would not be spared. He then left for Berlin. It was there that he befriended Cruger who was the cantor of St. Nikolai Church and music teacher of the school at the Gray Monastery in Berlin. Cruger immediately took to Gerhardt’s poetry and put his texts to music. Upon Cruger’s death, the special quality and character of Gerhardt’s hymns was to be recognized in the publication of an exclusive volume of more than one hundred of his hymns composed by Cruger’s sucessor at Berlin, Johann Gerhard Ebeling.
Gerhardt remained a faitful pastor in Lubben until his death on May 27, 1676. Gerhardt survived the death of his wife and four out his five children shortly before that. The Lutheran Church commemorates him on October 26, as a faithful pastor who steadfastly confessed his faith in word and deed.
Our hymns have history. They are doctrinal and therefore theological masterpieces. The Lutheran confessional forefathers would say: “when you sing a hymn you are preaching.” In fact, this is one of the reasons the early early church, from the 2nd-3rd centuries onward, always would sing the entire order of worship in their Sunday gatherings; the readings of the day and all. That is because music lifts the liturgy to a whole new level. If the angels and saints are constantly singing in heaven, why shouldn’t we mimic their methods in the throne room of God?
I remember when I was in Seminary, two required courses to graduate were Litugics I and II. In Litugics II we were required to pick hymns from the Lutheran Service Book and research them, write a paper about the doctrine and theology fond in the texts and link it to a sermon; kind of like what I am doing tonight here. When you sit down to do that, you will be amazed at the insight given through 400yr old hymn texts like these. They are not like the modern evangelicals hip hop contemporary “Christian Music.” No, they can’t be compared to them, often times with their incessant repeating of one word or chorus over and over again. I guess they lack the aptitude for understanding theology, doctrine, and just what a worship song is supposed to do and who it is aimed at. We say that our hymns are preacher’s words because they point to Christ and not to ourselves. As the Bible is not primarily about ourselves, neither should worship music be – we must preach Christ, His work and sing of Him. Ultimately all heavenly music finds its place in Him and He ultimately is the Master Conductor of the Symphony of creation. IN Genesis 1:3, God made an address to the nothing that He then created into the heavens and the earth. God uttered; sound, thought, His divine vibrations went forth and then there was light, waters, land, plants, trees, vegetation, planets and stars, living creatures, birds, and every creature there was moving along the earth and in the sea. Then God made man in His own image. It was quite the sermon those six days carried.
But we know the consequence that happened with man because of the Fall and the ejection out of the Garden. Man no longer could meet with God. And so, that turns us back to our hymn: O Lord How Shall I Meet You. How do we now welcome you? My heart’s desire is to get to delight in and with you once again; to have Your lamp within my breast. I lay in fetters groaning, I stood my shame bemoaning. O Lord How shall I, a poor miserable sinner, be able to meet you?
Sin’s debt the fearful burden, tough cannot His love erase. Love caused His incarnation, Love brought Him back down to me. And there it is. That is the answer to how shall I meet you. Christ’s thirst for my salvation – love beyond all telling. He came to pardon. He came to enact peace, be peace Himself. He was born to die. And that was the only way God could secure His children eternal life once again. He banned Adam and Eve from the Garden lest the eat of the tree of life and then would have been lost in sin forever. He placed angel guards at the entrances and hid that mountain paradise until, as our Gospel text for this evening told us: The light shone in the darkness. In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning (that is to say in the Genesis) was the Song of Songs, who made all things and His life was the light of men. His life. O Lord how shall I meet you? Alive, that’s how. Born to die, was buried, and on the third day arose from the dark grave, procuring for you a glorious crown, a treasure safe on high. And this treasure is how, here and now He guides us home. Back to Eden, back to partake of the tree of life, sins forgiven, forever. As the Psalm we sung this evening promises: “Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Yes, this week’s Advent 1 in Luke 21 that we are still in the week of, spoke of the shaking. But Christ came down in the flesh, born of the virgin, wrapped in swaddling clothes and then died in swaddling cloths to remove the shaking from your lives on the last day – a terror to His foes but a light of consolations and blessed hope to those who love the Lord’s appearing. O Lord how shall I meet you is not a fearful question to ask. It is to say, come Lord, give me the directions – I want to punch them into my GPS on wherever you say you’ll be. Please tell me Lord. Console me with your holy address. Send forth Your beams so cheering.
The Lord answered and the Lord answers. The OT reading in Isaiah foretold it already. Where shall we meet Him; it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord (that’s the address and our home). Where the nations shall flow to it, many peoples saying (I say singing) let us go up to the mountain of our Lord. And then I’ll close with the Epistle reading from Romans because it does tie into the Office Hymn of today. Therefore we have been justified by faith and we now have peace with God through Jesus Christ. “The peace of sin forgiven”, stanza 5. “Through Him we have obtained access” Access to the meeting place. And His meeting place is where we stand by grace (God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense).
Now what? We rejoice in our sufferings! What! Rejoice in suffering? Yeah, because it is how the children of God endure, receive back His image, and hope. This week’s Advent candle meaning also. We must tie and connect all things together in this season of Advent. It is to be how you live, all 7 days of the week. You have been given these things – so that you can live. And while you live, yes, anicipate how shall you meet Him. Those thoughts alone are enough to distract your earthly mind and ways from the snares of sin and death. His love and His ways cover all that. I like to refer to such grace as our heavenly security blanket to cover up with during our waiting years. And this blanket, Linus’ has nothing on, especially during Christmas time. Because we cover ourselves with His incarnation as He has covered Himself with our flesh. So that we can meet Him. So, let us magnify the Lord, as we are about to do in the Song of Mary. Singing, singing about salvation brings down His grace and mercy. He may have ascended on high but when you call, He loves to come down. And not that Jesus doesn’t have good hearing, but right now, heaven is pretty far away, so sing when you call to Him; make the angels jealous. The world and the nations shall not cover our praises because we know how to meet Him; where He brings heaven down to earth. O Lord open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise. King who comes to save us. Yes, meet us O Lord. Meet us this night. In the name of Jesus + Amen.