Thursday, 18 December 2014

Hymns for Advent (19): ‘Come, thou
long-expected Jesus’ (No 119)

Patrick Comerford

As part of my spiritual reflections for Advent this year, I am looking at an appropriate hymn for Advent each morning. This morning [18 December 2014], on the 307th birthday of Charles Wesley, I have chosen the Advent hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’ by Charles Wesley (Irish Church Hymnal, No 119).

Charles Wesley was born at Epworth Rectory on 18 December 1707, the youngest son and the 18th of 19 children of the Revd Samuel Wesley. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated in 1726 and became a college tutor.

He was ordained priest in the Church of England, and in 1735 he went with his brother John Wesley to Georgia as missionaries with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, later USPG, and now Us).

He returned to England a few months later in 1736, and continued to work closely with his brother. He wrote at least 6,500 hymns, so that he became known as the “Bard of Methodism.”

He strongly disapproved of his brother John’s ordinations, expressing his disapproval in an outspoken manner. He died in London on 29 March 1788, and was buried in Marylebone churchyard. He said: “I have lived, and I die, in the Communion of the Church of England, and I will be buried in the yard of my parish church.”

This hymn was first published anonymously in 1745 as a Christmas rather than an Advent hymn. However, the emphasis in on the coming of Christ as king, and this explains why it is widely used as an Advent hymn today.

‘Come, thou long expected Jesus’ is sung to many tunes, including ‘Jefferson’ by William Walker, ‘Stuttgart’ attributed to Christian Witt, ‘Hyfrydol’ by Rowland Pritchard), and ‘Halton Holgate’ by William Boyce. However, in the Irish Church Hymnal the preferred tune is from The Crucifixion, a well-loved oratorio by Sir John Stainer (1840-1901), which was used when I presided at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last Sunday [14 December 2014].

Stainer was the first organist of Saint Michael’s College, Tenbury, before becoming the Organist of Magdalen College, Oxford (1860-1872) and then Organist and Master of the Choristers at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (1872-1889). Later, he returned to Oxford as Heather Professor of Music (1889-1899). He died in Italy on holiday in 1901.

Come, thou long expected Jesus by John Stainer

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 for ever,
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.

Tomorrow:Creator of the starry height

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