Advent 4: Hope

As we come to the end of our Advent reflections, I want to thank all of our contributors from Calvary Baptist Church: Claire Black, Krista Ewert, Rust Foerger, John Hanley, Cheryl Krueger, Christa Leschert, Micaela Miller, Omar Reyes and Dan Sadowski. Each one has poignantly helped to shed a personal light on the themes of Love, Joy, Hope and Peace that we have been exploring in our teaching series, Who is This King of Glory?

And here we are. The eve of Christmas Eve. Tomorrow we are going to gather at 5pm at Calvary Baptist Church for about an hour to read and sing about the story of the coming of Jesus, our King of Glory. We are going to journey through the prophecies about Christ, from Genesis to Isaiah, to Matthew and Luke’s account of his birth, finally coming to rest in that great first chapter of John that hearkens back to Genesis 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

We invite you to join us.

What we are celebrating is that hope-filled paradoxical mystery of this great King of Glory. The Word of God, God himself, came to the world as one of us, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a food trough for animals. It makes no sense unless you consider that perhaps what seems an act of the greatest weakness is actually the greatest show of strength the world has ever seen. That the One, through whom all things were created, would humble himself and take the form of a man to inaugurate the turn of the tide against sin and death at that very moment is no accident but a fulfillment of a people’s ancient dreams and nothing less than the re-ordering of the universe.

As a choral conductor I come across a lot of old texts. One of my Christmas favourites is by Robert Southwell (famously set in Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols) from his poem New Heaven, New War. In it Southwell wonderfully associates the complete and utter seeming defencelessness of the Christ child with the arms of war. To me it resonates so well with that stunning section in 1 Corinthians where Paul says:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

The magnificent irony of the Christmas story is that through the weak and foolish, God has enacted his plan of salvation for you and for me. Make no mistake. Christ has come to “rifle Satan’s fold”. In a beautiful end, the poet encourages the reader that, “If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly boy.”

I encourage you to read through the poem below (may take some wading through Middle English) and join us at 5pm tomorrow at Calvary Baptist Church, where we will gather to remember and celebrate the birth of this living King of Glory.

This little babe (audio link to Britten’s choral setting)
from New Heaven, New War by Robert Southwell

This little babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake.
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

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