Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

It’s 2,000 years ago…

The people of Israel have been through exile, enslavement, wandering, and occupation. For 700 years, their prophets have foretold a Savior – the Messiah – born into this world to liberate their people and rule over his eternal kingdom from an earthly throne. This is the stage set on the night of Jesus’ birth – the Israelites expecting a Savior, but quietly and humbly receiving a gift even greater than they could ever grasp: Immanuel God With Us.

It’s from a later historical perspective that Charles Wesley penned the Christmas hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” but with the same longing embedded in its words. It harkens back to the night of Christ’s birth, but with a hindsight perspective on his role as the Messiah.

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.

See, Jesus was born to set his people free, not through conquest as the Israelites were expecting, but through his life, death and resurrection. He was born not only to set the Israelites free, but the Gentiles too. He was born to rule not on merely an earthly throne, but to rule in our hearts and over a heaven-meets-earth kingdom for eternity. He was not born to rescue us from a mortal tyrant, but from sin and death itself, that we would be able to live our lives unfettered by their weight, and then dwell with him for eternity.

Even 2,000 years away from their biblical and historical context, we can still relate to what the Israelites felt as they anticipated the birth of their Savior. We now await his second coming and the fulfillment of his plan for his kingdom, when everything in his creation that sin has tarnished will be made right and whole again; when we can dwell with him and worship him for eternity.

Singing this hymn in 2020, I feel it even more intensely.

Though we as Christians have already been rescued from sin and death through the work of Jesus on the cross, there is a kind of tyranny in living in this world that can be seen and felt even more clearly through the lens of “2020.“ Sickness and death, anger and guile, racial discord – all of these things make it easy to long for a day when all of it will cease. And though there is also immense grace and beauty poured out on us in this life – I see it best when I look into in the eyes of my daughter – there is still a longing in my soul to be with God and to see his kingdom come to full fruition.

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.

My utmost prayer for us as we sing the story of Jesus’s birth is that we keep in mind the fullness of what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection. I pray that these songs aren’t just a Christmas tradition, but an important reminder of how loved we are by God, of the great hope we have in Christ, and that we can sing them in anticipation of Jesus’ second advent.

Come thou long expected Jesus.

 

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

You wouldn’t recognize these words (not many people would) but they are part of a verse from the original version of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which was written by Charles Wesley, and later contributed to by George Whitefield.

Although this verse is not included in the popular hymn we sing today, it beautifully encapsulates a concept that is not only at the heart of this song, but one that runs deep in the veins of the Christian faith. We may have heard and sung this song a thousand times, but before we hurry off to sing it for the next thousand, humor me for a moment, and let’s take a deeper look.

First of all, what’s a “hark”? Who is Harold the angel? And am I the only one that has had these types of lofty questions whilst slipping further and further into the vortex of the shopping mall on Christmas Eve?

Well, “hark” is a middle English word that essentially means: listen. And “herald” is a messenger that is sent to bring news – typically that of something that is about to happen.

So, the title alone of this song basically means: “Listen to these angels who have been sent to tell us (or rather, sing) what is about to happen.”

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, what is this song about? What news are the angels bringing? Yes, that of baby Jesus’ birth. But perhaps there is a little more than meets the eye here.

The angels are announcing a miracle that is about to take place for which all of creation has been holding its breath – a miracle that took mankind by surprise.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

Heaven is coming to earth.

It might sound simple, but this truth is actually wonderfully miraculous. And while we may have missed it before, this concept is bursting at the seams of this song.

Look at this line in verse one: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Or how about this line in verse two: “Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.”

In his incredible mercy, God sent Jesus, from a throne of limitless glory, to a little family in a little town on a little planet on an unexpected night. And in that moment, the richest treasure of heaven was given to the most undeserving sinners. Heaven was gifted to earth.

Since the fall in the garden of Eden, heaven and earth have been divided, in desperate need of redemption and restoration. Humanity needed to be united again to God.

Little glimpses had happened throughout the narrative of Scripture, like Abraham and Issac‘s divine intervention, Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel of the Lord, or Moses on the mountain speaking with Yahweh himself. But a moment like this – the God of all creation, to unite us back to himself, entering into his creation, and subjecting himself to the brokenness and frailty of our little world – is of infinitely miraculous grandeur.

Even the name, “Jesus,” represents this glorious truth. We never called God by that name before. It is a name given to a heavenly savior in a human body, and it is a name we will praise forever. Jesus himself is heaven and earth united — fully God and fully man — united in one person.

Remember that part from the original version of this song?

“Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.”

This is the miracle. God’s saving power was displayed on Christmas day at the birth of Jesus, it will be displayed when he returns and restores what has been broken by the fall, and it will be displayed for all eternity as we, the church, live in perfect union with him in his Kingdom.

However, it’s not just something that happened two thousand years ago, and it’s not just something that will happen one day in the future. Jesus is committed to bringing heaven to earth every day in the life of the believer.

That is the beauty of a relationship with Christ. Heaven comes to earth through a quiet morning prayer as God gently reminds you that he is with you, a conversation with a close friend as the Holy Spirit moves and speaks through you, the saving work of the Spirit as a person places their faith in Christ for salvation, or even the almost tangible presence of God while every voice is singing a simple song at a church service. These are miraculous moments of heaven meeting earth – restoration and renewal. These are mere glimpses of that great uniting that will take place when God brings heaven down and dwells with us forever.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” is a celebration of a moment, but it is also an invitation into many more. An invitation to listen to, and be reminded of, the greatest news – that Jesus has done the impossible and keeps doing it every day.

Our God is here.

Forever we will glorify that name given to a king on Christmas – the name of Jesus.

Look for the miraculous in the mundane today, and see heaven all around you. In doing so, may we bring glory to the newborn King.


 

Joy to the World

My favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World.” It is an exhilarating hymn and one that, right from the start, unabashedly celebrates the coming of Jesus and calls followers of Jesus to active worship. And while I appreciate and enjoy the contemplative nature of many Christmas hymns that are slower in nature, “Joy to the World” is a fast song!

If Christmas carols were rides at an amusement park, “Joy to the World” would be a thrill ride.

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), who is recognized as the “father of English hymnody” and was published in 1719. And while “Joy to the World” has been sung during the Advent season by believers for over 300 years, it may come as a surprise to know that “Joy to the World” wasn’t intended to be about Christmas or the incarnation of Jesus. Instead, it was written about the return of Christ – his second coming. It was originally meant to be sung year-round to remind and encourage believers about the future coming of our King.

Now, you might think, So, why on earth do we still sing “Joy to the World” during Advent?

The truth is this, the second coming of Christ would not be possible without the first coming of Christ. And while the future coming is sure to look different than the first (see Revelation 19:11), these acts are tied together in the same beautiful arc of redemption set in place by our Creator at the beginning of time. The grace that was demonstrated for us in the first coming of Christ makes possible the day when our King will appear in all his glory to complete the work given to him in restoring all creation back to God.

This is why we should sing “Joy to the World” during Advent.

My favorite lyric from this hymn comes in the second verse when we are called to “repeat the sounding joy.” It’s a wonderful reminder that, despite the circumstances of our current reality and despite the many ways our culture may cause us to forget or lose hope in this life, when we “repeat the sounding joy” we are proclaiming that our King is sovereign over all, now and for all eternity. And just as our faithful brothers and sisters in Christ sang this line hundreds of years ago, here we are in 2020 repeating that same joy.

As we journey into this Advent season together, may we be a people whose hearts are filled with joy as we consider the grace we’ve received at the incarnation of Jesus. And as we look back, may it encourage us as we look forward to the grace that is promised to us when Christ returns.


Our Arts Team just released a new recording of Joy to the World!

Listen to it wherever you listen to music!


 

Was it for Me?

As the pandemic waxes and wanes over the next several months, Clear Creek Community Church has begun returning to in-person worship services. Some individuals and families have returned while others are still waiting. As we each approach this “return to normalcy” in our own time and according to our own safety and needs, we benefit from taking a moment to examine our relationship with collective worship. When we each return is a less important question than why we return. And the type of experience we return to will forever be less important than the way we worship God with our daily lives.

In Zechariah chapter 7, we read that emissaries from Bethel arrived in Jerusalem with a question for the priests. More than 70 years prior, after the Babylonians invaded and conquered Judah, the people of Bethel had begun fasting and mourning during the fifth month of every year. It had become a tradition during the difficult time when regular worship at the temple was unavailable. At this point in the story, however, the exiles were returning. The temple and city of Jerusalem were back under construction. The question brought to the priests in Jerusalem was, “Should we continue?”

It appeared to be a legitimate concern. Now that things were returning to normal, did they need to keep up their ritual mourning? It was not one of God’s prescribed feasts or celebrations. Yet, God had been faithful to return the Hebrews to their promised land and the people were grateful.

God’s reply through Zechariah cut to the heart of worship:

“Was it for me that you fasted?”

– Zechariah 7:5

He then added, “When you eat and drink, is that not done for yourselves?”

To the people of Bethel, God sent a message: render justice, show kindness and mercy to one another, and assist the lonely and needy among you. In other words, if you do not live for me, no religious practice is going to make you right with me.

Interestingly, God never told the emissaries from Bethel to stop fasting. But, he did tell them a lot about what they were neglecting that was even more important. They had forgotten the true focus of their worship, and instead gotten carried away with their own agenda of the what, when, and how.

When the exiles returned to Judah, that was a big deal. There was excitement and worry: excitement for the return and worry about how long it would last. There were still dangers lurking on every side, just as COVID-19 is still present with us during our return.

Coming back together for face-to-face worship services is a big deal, too. Many people are very excited about it, and they have reason to be. Others are more hesitant, and they have reason to be as well.

In our joy to see one another again, let us not forget why we return, why we worship, and the importance of worshiping the one true God, continually.

Singing through a mask may not be the most enjoyable way to sing. Children in the worship service may seem distracting. And there’s not even coffee to gather around before or after the service. Restrictions are frustrating. Change is difficult.

But, despite these challenges, we must resist making worship about our needs and preferences. True worship looks outside of ourselves to God who is worthy of our praise and to the needs of those around us. It isn’t about us. It unites and does not divide. It places into perspective why coming together is so critical to our spiritual health. The habits, routines, and practices we have developed over the past months of online worship — and even those traditions we practice in person — are meaningless if they are only to serve us.

We must focus on who it is we worship, and what he calls us to be, think, and do.

 

So, in this time of reunion, let us not neglect to show kindness and mercy to those who still need online service and those who are with us on site. Let us not stop seeking justice for the needy and oppressed.

Like the people of Jerusalem who were rebuilding the temple, we’ve all longed to gather together again and worship God freely. Through Jesus, we live in intimate, personal relationship with God, no matter our circumstances or locations. Through Jesus, we never have to fear separation from God, for eternity.

So, let’s rejoice as we begin to meet in person again, but let us not forget the reason we gather in the first place.


 

060: Leading Worship in a Pandemic + Album Release

Now that all Clear Creek campuses have returned to in-person services, what has this season taught us about worship and music? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Aric Harding and JJ Cole about what they have learned and some of the new projects the Arts Teams has worked on, including a new EP album entitled “True Love.”

Resources:

“True Love” on Apple Music, Spotify

Clear Creek Music

Remember When: Worship Songs and Wistful Longings

The other day as I was driving, I was flipping through my presets on the radio (yes, some people still let fate decide their music) when the song “When I See You Smile” by Bad English came on.

As I listened, something happened to me!

I was no longer crossing under I-45, I was crossing under the home field football stands, hands interlocked with my 6th grade girlfriend with our heads together leaning in to share one pair of headphones. To a hormonal 6th grade boy it was love. But now, so many years later, the melody being pushed through my car speakers carried my mind through time and space, like some sort of emotional Delorian.

It was an ache – “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.”

It was nostalgia.

But here’s the thing: nostalgia can be dangerous. 

It isn’t always bad, of course. It can serve to remind us of things we’ve forgotten, or even awaken a soft spot in our hearts. So you can probably imagine how that can be a really good thing when it comes to worshiping God through song.

Music is an innate language that harmoniously connects – from our 206 bones to the 86 billion neurons in our brains. Music in all forms is powerful.

That’s why in the Bible, we are commanded to have music as a part of our worship to God, and why I’m pretty sure we worship leaders will have job security in heaven. In fact, we are commanded over 100 times in the Bible to sing. So how we think about music and singing as a church obviously matters to God.

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song;

sing to the LORD, all the earth!”

– Psalm 96:1

Music is good. Music is necessary. It takes us back, connects us presently, and gives us hope for the future.

So, how can nostalgia in music be dangerous?

When the church is gathered, music is a tool of relationship with one another and with God. But nostalgia takes our hearts by the hand and says, “hey let’s get out of here and go back.”

The problem is that we can’t go back. Nostalgia cannot transport us to our old pews where we sat as children next to our godly grandmothers. It can’t let her voice ring in your ears as she belts out over the volume of the organ the rare third verse of the “Old Rugged Cross”. Nostalgia can’t really put us back into the sweaty teen-filled auditorium from the summer between our sophomore and junior years at camp when we had tears streaming down our faces and our hands raised, crooning the lyrics to “The Stand.”

There is power in remembering our past and the spiritual milestones that God orchestrated in our lives. A blessing of music is that we can encapsulate pieces of our story in songs, and in doing so, remember and give thanks.

Remembrance is good, but the danger of nostalgia comes in when we begin to live for that feeling like a drug to experience an emotion and close our hearts to the fresh and present movement of the Holy Spirit.

When we allow nostalgia to take the wheel in worship we can become skeptical of change, agents of disunity, dissatisfied grumblers.

When I was in the 8th grade my parents divorced.

My mom moved out and our house, and what was once the epicenter of a thriving family became a tomb to memorialize it. Stacks of books sat gathering dust. Plates remained where they had always been, and so did the same pictures, the same sheets, the same rug, and the same lamp, frozen and preserved like a cold body. But it all began to deteriorate. Dust gathered. Paint faded. Piles grew.

What began as an inadvertent attempt to hold onto the past ultimately stunted the growth of the future. 

Nostalgia can do the same thing in worship at church when we long for the “good old days.” We must fight vehemently against it, not just for ourselves but for those who would come behind us. We must build a flourishing rich vibrant relationship through transcendent worship that is always growing and fulfilling the words of Jesus that he is making all things new.

If music in song is designed to be a part of a flourishing relationship between God and his bride then we must have forward emotions and experiences even as we sing about the gospel—what God has done for us in Christ, his grace for us today, and all he is continuing to do in Christ.

Nostalgia isn’t the enemy. 

After I heard that Bad English song I pulled up Spotify and added a whole 80s ballads playlist, not because I’m a glutton for heartache, but because I can look back with nostalgia and trace the story of God’s grace to see his work in bringing me to where I am today.

Nostalgia is one player in the game, valuable in its role to connect us to our past. We must know, respect, and remember the power it can have on our hearts and then look forward.

039: How Songwriters Write Songs

Ever wonder how your favorite song came to be? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with worship leaders Aric Harding and Tanner Smith about collaboration and the creative process that goes into writing a song. They also discuss the story behind Clear Creek Community Church’s latest song “Fighting Words.”

RESOURCES:

Fighting Words Music Video

Clear Creek Community Church Music

037: Go Outside – Worshiping God in Nature

Are you experiencing cabin fever? In this season where many of us have spent more time than usual at home, you’ve probably felt the urge to go outside and enjoy the world around us. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Greg Poore about enjoying God’s creation as a way to worship him. So go outside, take a walk as you listen to this episode, and gain a greater appreciation for God’s fingerprints on everyday life.

 

RESOURCES: 

Becoming Worldly Saints by Michael Wittmer

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer

All My Hope

 

The song “All My Hope” by David Crowder was sung during our online service of Clear Creek Community Church located in the Bay Area of Houston, TX.

To view the full service, visit https://youtu.be/0yHm83WlL6U

For more ways to participate in our online service in this season, go to clearcreek.org

Follow us on social media:
Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Fighting Words

Our Arts Team has gotten creative during this time to offer some encouragement during this COVID-19 crisis.

In the first week we were meeting remotely as a church, our lead pastor Bruce Wesley challenged us all to share encouragement.

The clearest encouragement that we can stand on consists of the promises of God in his word. These promises and truths of God are our #fightingwords, against that which would bring confusion and fear. Now is the time to remind everyone of the truth and power of the Gospel in this season of trouble.

This is a song that has been 95% done for months now, but it seems as if God had the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle in his hand.