By DS Dennis W. Miller.
A few weeks before Christmas 1998, I found myself on a busy street in Bristol, England surrounded by hundreds of holiday shoppers quite oblivious to their historic surroundings. For situated across the street, within a row of elegant clothing stores all beautifully decorated for the season, was an old iron gate leading into a darkened courtyard. Just inside the gate was a statue of a young Anglican priest named Charles Wesley. Here, Charles and his older brother John built Methodism’s first meeting room. Its purpose was to provide a place to disciple the influx of new converts following the 1739 Wesleyan-Whitfield Revival. The “New Room,” as they called it, became a place where thousands of England’s poor and uneducated could experience the true miracle of Christmas morning.
Two blocks north of the “New Room” is the old townhouse of Charles & Sarah Wesley. As I stood before the piano in Wesley’s first floor music room, I recalled his Advent carol, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” Written in 1744, this carol was inspired by Haggai 2:7 as Wesley contemplated the situation of orphans and the class divide in Great Britain. British hymnologist J.R. Watson notes that this hymn’s “uniqueness comes from its skillful conjunction of several elements into one simple-sounding discourse. Those elements include the Old Testament promise of the Messiah, ‘Israel’s strength and consolation’ who has been long expected and who will set his people free; the New Testament story of the birth of the child who is also a king (Matthew 2:6); and the idea of the Christ-child not only as the strength and consolation of Israel, but also the hope of all the earth, a Christ who is born for the Gentiles as well as the Jews.”
Although we live in a different time than Charles Wesley, the longings of people’s hearts are just as deep. Today our nation is in desperate need of another great spiritual awakening. Even after the Presidential election, America is still shrouded in division, frustration, pessimism, and strife. Let us be reminded no political solution can ultimately heal our nation. If our country and church are to be great again, it will happen because of a movement of the Holy Spirit! We need to be the voice of God to a hurting and fearful people. The longing and expectation of Christ for those early Methodists became the catalyst for societal reform. Fighting injustice of all kinds, those known as “Methodists” shook the moral, economic, cultural, and political foundations of 18th century England. One by one, as hearts were “strangely warmed” by the love of God, a Church arose to confront the evil forces of immorality and transform a corrupt system of oppression. Today many historians argue that the Wesleyan renewal saved England from a potential civil war and tremendously influenced 19th century American culture and ethics.
This Advent season, I invite you to pray with me of words of Charles Wesley:
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.