“Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333)

Midweek Advent Matins
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

“Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333)

Today we’re going to take a look at an Advent hymn, one that delivers the goods as far as conveying the message of Advent. It’s the hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” hymn 333 in Lutheran Service Book. So please turn there.

Before we get to the various stanzas, let me tell you first a little about the hymn’s history and its author. And there’s only a little to tell. The author was a man by the name of Johann Horn, and he lived around the same time as Luther. He was a supporter of Luther during the Reformation. Johann Horn was part of a community called the Bohemian Brethren, in what is now the Czech Republic. As bishop, he prepared a large hymnal full of hymns for his church. Our hymn today is the only one we have in our book for which he wrote the text; we do have another one for which he wrote the tune.

This hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” is a translation of the German text, Gottes Sohn ist kommen, literally, “God’s Son has come.” By the way, the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was a Lutheran church organist, later composed a work based on this hymn.

Why am I picking this hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing,” for our midweek Advent service today? Because this hymn does a good job in capturing the three aspects of Christ’s coming that we think about during the Advent season: how Christ came to us in the past; how he comes to us in the present; and how Christ will come to us in the future. In fact, these three “comings” of Christ form the first three stanzas of the hymn. That’s the distinctive thing about this hymn. You can even see it in the opening word of each stanza: “Once,” “Now,” “Soon,” past, present, and future. Let’s look at those stanzas now, one at a time.

We sing stanza one:

Once He came in blessing,
All our sins redressing;
Came in likeness lowly,
Son of God most holy;
Bore the cross to save us;
Hope and freedom gave us.

Here is Christ’s coming to us in the past, in history. It’s his coming in the flesh, beginning with his birth at Bethlehem. That’s the coming of Christ we especially associate with Advent, since Advent leads us up to Christmas. And this stanza shows us the reason for his birth, the purpose of his coming in the flesh, namely, so that he could die for us and thus save us.

“Once He came in blessing, all our sins redressing.” Christ came in history in order to redress, that is, to atone for, to make right, all of our sins. We couldn’t do it. There were, and there are, too many sins and all the ills that result from them. Too many sins, too many bad effects, and we are unable to make things right.

But Christ can, and he did. He came to bless us, to be a blessing for us, by atoning for all our sins. To do that he had to die. And in order to die, he had to become true man, fully human. Therefore he “came in likeness lowly,” even though he was in truth the “Son of God most holy.” He had to become like us, he had to be one of us, so that he could be our substitute and take our place on the cross. And by his being the sinless, innocent, most holy Son of God, it gave his atoning death infinite worth, infinite value, to cover all the sins of all mankind.

This is why we can then sing: “Bore the cross to save us; hope and freedom gave us.” By his coming in the flesh and bearing the cross, God’s Son did save us. He gave us hope and freedom. We are free from the guilt and weight of those sins that would otherwise weigh us down and crush us. And with that freedom of sins forgiven, now we have hope, new hope for for an eternal future. All this because of Christ’s first coming, in the past, in history, starting at Christmas. Our reading from Hebrews puts it like this: “He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” or again, “having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” “Once he came in blessing”: That’s the coming in history that makes up the first of the Advent comings we find in these three hymn stanzas.

Now we move from the past to the present, and we sing stanza two:

Now He gently leads us;
With Himself He feeds us
Precious food from heaven,
Pledge of peace here given,
Manna that will nourish
Souls that they may flourish.

This is the coming of Christ in the present, his coming to us now in Word and Sacrament. This too is an Advent theme: Christ the king coming to us, righteous and having salvation. He comes into our midst, to lead us and to feed us. “Now he gently leads us,” the hymn says. Just as Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” “With Himself He feeds us.” For Jesus says: “I am the Bread of Life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Yes, this is “precious food” indeed, “manna that will nourish souls that they may flourish.” Because when Christ gives us himself–here, in church, every time he feeds us with his Word and Sacrament–Christ is giving us his “pledge of peace.” We are at peace with God, because of what Christ has done. We have his word on it. That promise is delivered into our ears in the preaching of the Gospel, and it is placed into our mouths in the blessed Sacrament.

This is Christ’s coming to us today, in the here and now. During Advent we prepare for Christ’s coming to us even now. We prepare the way of the Lord by heeding the call to repentance. And we receive him. We welcome him into our midst with shouts of praise: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Now we sing stanza three:

Soon will come that hour
When with mighty power
Christ will come in splendor
And will judgment render,
With the faithful sharing
Joy beyond comparing.

This is the coming of Christ that we’re still looking forward to: his coming again, his second coming at the end of time. “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead,” we confess in the Creed. Or as we sing in this stanza: “Soon will come that hour when with mighty power Christ will come in splendor and will judgment render.” We don’t know when that hour will come, but we do know that it is coming. Soon, for all we know.

Soon, for all we hope! Because that hour will be a joyful occasion for us. We need not shrink in terror from the Day of Judgment. For we know that our Judge is also our Savior. This Judge has removed the guilty verdict from us by taking it on himself. So in him, in Christ, we will be declared not guilty, justified, and able to stand in that great day. It will be a day of joy, that wonderful day when Christ comes again. Christ will come “with the faithful sharing joy beyond comparing.” There is nothing to compare with the joy that awaits us! We really have no idea how good it’s going to be! It is literally beyond our imagination.

The coming again in glory of Christ on the last day is the third of the Advent themes brought out here in this hymn. What this stanza expresses is what we read earlier from Hebrews: that Christ will appear a second time, “to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Therefore we respond to this happy prospect by singing now the closing stanza, stanza four:

Come, then, O Lord Jesus,
From our sins release us.
Keep our hearts believing,
That we, grace receiving,
Ever may confess You
Till in heav’n we bless You.

On the basis of Christ’s comings–his coming in history, born in the flesh in order to die for our sins; his coming to us now to lead us and feed us with his Word and Sacrament; and his coming again in the future, when he will share with us the incomparable, eternal joy of the age to come–now, finally, in this last stanza we pray for the day of his coming. We look forward to that day when he will release us from this vale of tears. And we pray that he will keep us strong–firm in the faith and bold in our confession–until that great day.

Once he came in blessing, came to save us from our sins. Now he comes in blessing, too, to feed us with himself. Soon he will come again in blessing, to take us home to heaven. Christ’s coming to us in blessing gives us forgiveness and life and eternal salvation. Our blessing him back in praise and thanksgiving is simply the fitting response to our wonderful Lord and Savior. And so that is what we do: We bless the Lord, we praise him, for he has come, he comes now, and he will come again, in blessing for us.

Published in: on December 18, 2019 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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