Maranatha! (Our Lord, Come!)

This Sunday marks the first day of Advent, a season in which, in addition to commemorating the birth of Christ in the flesh and in our own hearts, we look forward to his second coming.

In 2011 musicians from the Chicago Metro Presbytery collaborated on the Advent album Proclaim the Bridegroom Near. The title comes from a line in the hymn “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers,” originally written in German by Laurentius Laurenti in 1700 and translated into English by Sarah B. Findlater in 1854. Paul van der Bijl made slight modifications to the words and set them to new music. The result can be heard below.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, believers,
and let your lights appear;
the evening is advancing,
and darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising,
and soon he draweth nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle;
at midnight comes the cry.

See that your lamps are burning;
replenish them with oil.
Then wait for your salvation,
the end of earthly toil.
The watchers on the mountain
proclaim the bridegroom near.
Go meet him as he cometh,
with alleluias clear.  

O wise and holy virgins,
now raise your voices higher,
until in songs of triumph
ye meet the angel choir.
The marriage feast is waiting;
the gates wide open stand.
Rise up, ye heirs of glory:
the bridegroom is at hand. 

Our hope and expectation,
O Jesus, now appear.
Arise, O Sun so longed for,
o’er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted,
we plead, O Lord, to see
the day of earth’s redemption
that brings us unto thee!

Ye saints, who here in patience
your cross and sufferings bore,
shall live and reign forever
when sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory
the Lamb you shall behold,
in triumph cast before him
your diadems of gold.

This hymn references a popular Advent text: Matthew 25:1–13, the parable of the ten virgins. In this story ten bridesmaids wait for the groom to retrieve them for the marriage procession back to his home with his new bride, where a magnificent feast will be served. Because the procession takes place at night, each bridesmaid is expected to bring her own lamp. Five of them are prepared with an ample supply of olive oil to fuel their lamp fires until the groom comes and through the duration of the festivities. The other five, however, do not bother to buy any extra oil, thinking that the bit they started with would be sufficient, and as a result their lamps burn out before the arrival of the groom. The groom ends up coming while the five foolish bridesmaids are out looking for more oil, so they miss the procession, and the doors to the feast are shut before they can get there.

The lesson: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (v. 13) when Christ will return. In the meantime you must keep your light shining, ever expectant that he’s on his way to lead you to the feast of heaven.

Maranatha painting

Jungun Park (Korean), Maranatha: Lord Jesus, Please Come Soon, 1994. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 160 x 130 cm.

For an object of visual reflection to kick off the season, I’ve chosen Jungun Park’s painting Maranatha: Lord Jesus, Please Come Soon. It shows the five wise women of Jesus’s parable confidently standing with their lamps alight as they wait and pray for the Lord’s return. An orb of light crowns them collectively, like a halo, proclaiming their holiness. The shapes of their individual flames are reminiscent of Christmas bulbs, which further links the image to Advent.

Marana tha (“Our Lord, come!”) was a prayer of the early Aramaic-speaking church. Paul prays it in the conclusion to his first letter to the church at Corinth (16:22), and John prays a variation of it—“Come, Lord Jesus!”—in Revelation 22:20, the second to last verse of the Bible. It’s a heart-cry that I share, especially in response to horrifying acts of evil, such as we saw this month with the terrorist attacks in Paris—which is really only the tip of a large, large iceberg of evil that lives in our world.

Returning to the parable, let me note that commentators disagree on how to interpret the symbolism of the oil/lighted lamps.

Most of those who subscribe to the doctrine of eternal security (that is, the idea that you cannot lose your salvation) will say that the lights represent Truth, which the foolish may brandish about but never personally receive or commit to. They think themselves part of the wedding party—they have their lamps, they keep company with the other bridesmaids—but when the groom comes he exposes them for what they are: spiritually dark. A related interpretation is that the lights symbolize the commandments of God, or the written revelation of his will, which are linked elsewhere in scripture through metaphor (e.g., Proverbs 6:23; Psalm 119:105). A person may hear or read the teachings of scripture but never actually take them to heart.

Those who believe instead in conditional security (that is, the possibility of apostasy, or falling away from grace) say that the lights represent one’s faith, one’s relationship with Christ, especially as expressed through good works, the fruits of repentance (cf. Matthew 5:14–16). You may be spiritually on fire for a while, but if you’re foolish, you let your faith peter out and die; you stop feeding it with fuel until it is no more. And as John 15:1–6 says, if you stop producing fruit, Christ cuts you off—just as the groom shut out the lightless bridesmaids from the wedding feast. Following a similar line of reasoning, one might interpret the oil as the Holy Spirit, who departs from those who renounce Christ.

However you interpret this element of the story, the point is clear: Be prepared, constantly tending to the fire that you hold. That is, remain steadfast in the faith, persevering until Christ returns to call you home.

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One Response to Maranatha! (Our Lord, Come!)

  1. Thanks for this, Victoria. It reminds me that while the night seems long, the bridegroom will return and the perseverance and waiting will have been worth it.

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