Come thou long expected Jesus

December 18, 2020

I love lyrics. Song lyrics. Poetic lyrics. Storytelling lyrics.

Lyrics are oftentimes prayers expressed creatively, musically and authentically.

This is certainly true of the Psalms. Far from a random assortment of sentimental journal entries, the Psalms are an arranged body of work that tells the story of the long-anticipated arrival of the divine-human king and His kingdom. And the Psalter provides the language of longing for God’s people throughout the ages.

As we approach the Christmas season — and particularly this year’s Christmas season — two poems have recaptured my attention, as they keep reemerging.

The first is a poem by Langston Hughes that reads:

“I am so tired of waiting.
Aren’t you,
for the world to become
good and beautiful and kind?
“Let us take a knife
and cut the world in two —
and see what worms are eating
at the rind.”

It’s a beautiful, simple poem that evokes both angst and action, as well as anticipation and expectation of change. No wonder it has become quite popular in 2020 in the midst of quarantines and stay-at-home orders.

That kind of angst and expectation isn’t new though. The storyline of Scripture includes one scenario after another of people experiencing and participating in a world that is less than its original “good and beautiful and kind” design. The angst is palpable and only increases as Israel endures repeated exile and one oppressive regime after another.

This angst is the reality of every human being in one way or another. Everyone, in some capacity, knows what belonging is like, what not belonging is like, and what longing for belonging is like.

“From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”

The longing of Israel was different though. It wasn’t a vague longing — it was shaped and informed by the activity and promises of the living God throughout their history. Their angst and longing was rooted in a coming King and His kingdom, who would, once and for all, “take a knife and cut the world in two” and decisively deal with the “worms…eating at the rind.”

Charles Wesley captured this idea in one of his many timeless lyrics in the hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

“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.”

What God has done in Jesus is the only thing that can serve as “the hope of all the earth,” the “desire of every nation” and the “joy of every longing heart.” He is the only one who can deal decisively with sin as both God and man.

Amazingly, by letting “the worms eat” at Him, He has turned death backward and provided a galvanizing hope for “every longing heart” to take up the same life of sacrificial love. This life is expressed in righteousness and justice, as we await His second coming to consummate what He established in His first advent.

Consider spending some time meditating on these two poems this Christmas season. Let them draw up the angst inside of you for every wrong to be made right, for your longing for change, and your longing to be changed.

Let these poems provide you with fresh language as you lean into the certain hope that God Himself has given us in His Word.

Merry Christmas.


by Josh Reed  
Adult Evangelism and Discipleship  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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