We feel his footsteps near,
the Bridegroom at the door–
Alleluia! The lamps will shine
With light divine
As Christ the Savior comes to reign.
Wake, O wake, and sleep no longer
by Philipp Nicolai; Translator and Adapter: Christopher M. Idle
Wake, O wake and sleep no longer. It is an imperative. A command. There is an urgency to the wake-up call.
I used to revel in the darkness, in the weeks of waiting, the wonderfully haunting readings of the Advent liturgy. But the entrance hymn of the First Sunday of Advent sung in St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago this year changed all that for me.
Wake… Hear, the midnight bells are chiming / The signal for his royal coming.
Midnight… The time of deepest dark yes, but also, as Jesus has told us in his parables, the time of the arrival of the Bridegroom. When the Bridegroom arrived there was a flurry of preparation among the virgins, half wise, half foolish. Trimmed lamps burning bright, the wise virgins stood ready to meet him with open hearts.
Midnight… At a time when you do not expect the King will return and blessed shall we be if we are waiting in expectation.
Midnight… In the darkness of the shortest days of the year begins to burn the Light of the world, the radiant Sun of Justice.
Midnight… In a world torn by violence and uncertainty, the voice of the newborn King of Peace cried out in the night, held by the chorus of angel-song.
We feel his footsteps near, / The Bridegroom at the door….
Our hearts are thrilled with sudden longing.
Longing springs up in thrilled hearts. It is not a melancholy feeling of holy sadness. It is the leap of the spirit, of the soul, when it senses the Lord and Lover of mankind is near. Christ, her friend, and lord, and lover, / Her star and sun and strong redeemer– / At last his mighty voice is heard.
The hymn doesn’t sing of a tiny babe shivering in a Bethlehem manger. It proclaims that the royal King has come to make with us his home: / Sing Hosanna! The fight is won, / The feast begun.
Christmas is a feast proclaiming and rejoicing that we have caught the eye of our Creator, and he has wooed us with his love.
Naturally, we look forward to December 25, less than three weeks away now. But the hymn reminds us that our little Christmas celebrations are but a tiny reflection of the eternal festivities of the Bridegroom’s love:
Awake, God’s own Jerusalem!…
Twelve the gates into the city,
Each one a pearl of shining beauty;
The streets of gold ring out with praise.
All creatures round the throne
Adore the holy One
This Christmas, no matter how heavy the burden of your heart, lift up your head and look on high to the eternity already begun that will have no end of joy and delight. Lay your head on the straw next to the Child of the Ages and honor him forever on his throne as King of Kings. Plunge your heart into the tender and pierced Heart of the Savior, dry your tears on the mantle of the Shepherd who is Good.
Awake, O awake, the night is flying….