The Advent of Our King
Luke 19:28–40; Philippians 2:5–11; Ephesians 4:22–24; Daniel 7:13–14
(Lutheran Service Book 331)
Text: Charles Coffin (1676-1749)
The advent of our King
Our prayers must now employ,
And we must hymns of welcome sing
In strains of holy joy.
The everlasting Son
Incarnate deigns to be,
Himself a servant’s form puts on
To set His servants free.
O Zion’s daughter, rise
To meet your lowly King,
Nor let your faithless heart despise
The peace He comes to bring.
As judge, on clouds of light,
He soon will come again
And His true members all unite
With Him in heav’n to reign.
Before the dawning day
Let sin’s dark deeds be gone,
The sinful self be put away,
The new self now put on.
All glory to the Son,
Who comes to set us free,
With Father, Spirit, ever one
Through all eternity.
One of the things I love about historic hymnody (there is more than one thing) is the subtle ecumenical nature of the genera. Many people will say, “This is a Baptist hymn” or “That is a Lutheran hymn,” or whatever denomination they think the hymn represents. To some extent, that kind of identification is valid. But, in the most important sense, that type of identification is not valid. Hymns travel across denominational boundaries. This is especially true of hymns that are solidly biblical. “The Advent of Our King” is a great example of this.
Charles Coffin (1676-1749) was a Frenchman, university professor and rector, and a dedicated Roman Catholic. This “Roman Catholic” hymn appears in 44 hymnals currently that are used in Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Episcopal, Presbyterian and other Reformed congregations, and independent churches. How can this be? Coffin’s hymns (he wrote about 100) are characterized as “direct and fitted with the spirit of grace.” They have also been described as “remarkable … for their pure latinity (having a Latin style) and scripturalness.” It is their scripturalness, their spirit of grace, and clarity that has given Coffin’s hymns their broad appeal. The same holds true for his “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry,” which is LSB 344.
Advent is a “penitential” season. In repentance for our sin we prepare ourselves for Christ, who came to “set His servants free” from sin, death and the power of the devil. Therefore our hymn urges us to not let our “faithless heart” despise his coming and the gifts he brings.
There are three main “advents” (“advent” means “coming”) we remember during this season, the advent of Christ in time around 2000 years ago; the advent of Christ at his second coming, and the advent of Christ into our lives through the gift of faith. Each advent receives attention in this hymn. The coming 2000 years ago is remembered in verse two. Verse three remembers his coming into our lives. Verse four remembers his coming at the end of time. Verse five draws from his second coming and his coming into our lives. The final verse, which is doxological, captures all three main advent comings.
While we remember the coming of Christ at Christmas, into our lives through faith, and look forward to his coming at the end of time, these are not the only “comings” of Jesus. Coffin deftly weaves allusions to Jesus’ humble coming to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday into this hymn (Luke 19:28-40). One parallel is that both comings include a miracle. Of course the miraculous obtaining of the donkey isn’t in the same class as the virgin birth, but they are both miracles. The humble arrival of Jesus on a donkey compares to the humble surroundings of the birth of our Lord. Coffer connects these two events in verse three: “O Zion’s daughter, rise to meet your lowly King.” We here are Zion’s daughter and we, like the Judeans of the first century, rise to greet our king. The “faithless heart” that despises the coming of the King of peace would correspond to the Pharisees in the Palm Sunday story, or Herod in the Christmas story (Matthew 2:15-19). Another crowd that praises Jesus, to which to which we may join our “hymns of welcome” would be the angels in the Christmas story (Luke 2:8-15).
In verse two Coffer speaks of the Incarnation by saying Jesus “a servant’s form” put on. He got these words from Saint Paul. Paul wrote,
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
Paul tells us the reason Jesus did this, the reason for the Incarnation, the reason for Christmas. Jesus humbled Himself so that as a human being, he could become “obedient to the point of death,” keeping God’s Law perfectly for us and paying for our sins on the cross. While Coffer doesn’t specifically mention the cross, he alludes to it. “Let sin’s dark deeds be gone” and “Who comes to set us free” are phrases that receive their meaning because of the atoning death of Jesus and the new life offered through his death.
In Luke 19:38 we read, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” This is what the crowds shouted as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Coffin picks up on this peace in his third verse. However, Jesus doesn’t come to bring political peace between nations. That would be directly opposite of what he said in places like Matthew 24:6 or John 14:27. Jesus brings heavenly peace, a peace between God and humanity founded on the forgiveness God the Father gives to those who believe that his Son earned it for them. This is a peace that transcends human battle fields.
As I mentioned above, verse four deals with the Last Day. It reflects passages like Daniel 7:13-14. (Daniel 7:9-10 are also related.) We read,
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
Daniel sees the “Ancient of Days,” who is the Father. In the vision Daniel sees the Father in heaven bestowing all of His power and glory on His Son. So, when Christ returns “As judge, on clouds of light” he possesses this divine dominion and glory.
Both Saint Paul and Coffin speak of putting off our “old self” and putting on “the new self.” Coffin does so in verse five. Paul does so in places like Ephesians 4:22-24.
22[T]o put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Verse 23 is key to understanding Paul’s thinking. He is talking about the renewal that takes place through the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, working through the Gospel, sanctifies Christians, making them righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ. This enables Christians to strive earnestly to live according to Jesus’ teachings. We leave our old, sinful lives behind and live as Christ’s new people.