Lo! he comes, with clouds descending
once for our salvation slain
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train
Alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign.
Every eye shall now behold him
robed in dreadful majesty
those who set at nought and sold him
pierced, and nailed him to the tree
deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.
Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers
with what rapture, gaze we on those glorious scars!
Yea, amen! let all adore thee
high on thine eternal throne
Savior, take the power and glory
claim the kingdom for thine own
Alleluia! Thou shalt reign, and thou alone.
It’s easy to see Advent as the end of the year. It’s December. The days are getting shorter. Shopping season has been in full cry for at least a month already. But Advent is the beginning of the church calendar. And, like the first of Steven Covey’s now-infamous Seven Habits, we “begin with the end in mind.” In Advent, we prepare, not for the coming of Christ as a baby—that already happened—but for the coming of Christ in the time when all God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica is the earliest piece of New Testament writing, dated c.51. He encourages the Thessalonians, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God…and so we will be with the Lord forever.” The earliest piece of the New Testament points not to the past, but to the future—to the fulfillment of God’s reign.
Since then, our understanding of the universe has changed. We know that above the clouds is outer space, that below the ground is the molten core of the earth, and that east and west, north and south, are ways to understand direction on this madly spinning sphere we know as Earth as it hurtles through the dark. But our Advent hymns, like this one, still use Paul’s description of power and majesty. It may not happen exactly this way, and that’s okay. Though Christ has ascended, he is not gone; he will return, with power and with great glory.
And so we say each Sunday, claiming the faith of God’s people for thousands of years: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.