Advent…bowing low in humility and hope

Advent manifests the humility of God who was made flesh for us in Jesus Christ. He who was the very Royalty of Heaven became a poor mortal. As Athanasius said, “He became like unto us that we might become like unto Him.” There is a wonderful hymn, unfamiliar to most evangelicals, with words taken from a prayer written in the fourth century. This prayer was used by the Orthodox Church in Constantinople and still recited by Orthodox Christians to this day. The tune is based on a French carol melody called Picardy. It was translated from the Greek in 1864.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

And so Advent reminds us that we mortals must bow in humility before the One who bowed low to become our Savior. Pride, hubris, power, and self-proclaimed righteousness have no place before the One who emptied Himself for us. How can we ever think that our earthly credentials could ever impress or gain entrance to the Courts of Heaven?

A few years ago, I attended a Christmas prayer breakfast held in our county and heard the speaker refer to the fascinating burial protocol of the House of Hapsburg in Austria. The funeral cortege comes to a halt before the door of the Capuchen convent in which is located the royal crypt where Hapsburg Kings and Emperors have been buried for centuries (the last one being His Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Hapsburg-Lorraine in July 16, 2011). The Grand Chamberlain who leads the procession knocks three times on the door with a sliver cane. From inside, a monk asks, “Who is there?” The chamberlain replies with a very long first-person oration of the royalty’s name, titles– basically, the dead guy’s resume:  “I am ….., Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Galacia, Lodomeria, of Illyria, and King of Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany, etc.” The monk inside then replies, “I do not know you.”

The chamberlain knocks a second time on the door and the monk replies, “Who is there?” The chamberlain this time responds with just the name: “I am ….., his Majesty, Emperor, and King.”  The monk again replies, “I do not know you.” Finally, there is a third knock and the same reply, “Who is there?” This time the chamberlain simply says, “I am ….., a poor mortal and a sinner.” The monk opens the door and says “come in.”

May this Advent season find us bowing low as “poor mortals and sinners” before the One who is “the King of Kings, though born of Mary.” And may we recognize afresh and anew that the door of Heaven will not be opened unto us because of our resume, but on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteous. I dare not trust the sweetest frame (old English word means profitable), but wholly lean on Jesus name.”

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