I. The Hymn
Today we come to the 3rd Advent Hymn for our consideration – “When All The World Was Cursed.” It’s written by Johann Gottfried Olearius, of whom we have said enough already. The translator is Paul Kretzmann, a Lutheran pastor and teacher. There’s not a whole lot to say about him. He died in 1965 and so he’s pretty contemporary. He’s most known for a 4 volume ‘popular’ commentary on the whole Bible that is considered to be one of the best commentaries on the Bible.
II. Stanza 1
“When all the world was cursed by Moses’ condemnation,
Saint John the Baptist came with words of consolation.
With true forerunner’s zeal the greater One he named,
And Him, as yet unknown, as Savior he proclaimed.”
So, first of all let’s establish the direction of the text. In the 1st hymn, ‘Comfort, comfort, Ye My People,’ the direction was from God to His prophet and then the Prophet to the people. The direction of the 2nd hymn, ‘Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come’ was from us up to God – a prayer. Now in this 3rd hymn, what we see is that the first 3 stanzas, the direction of the text is like a sermon – from preacher to congregation. It’s basically information about John the Baptist drawn from the Scriptures.
So, for one last time in this season of Advent, our attention is turned to John the Baptist, and we’ll follow the course set out for us by the author of this hymn.
“When all the world was cursed in Moses’ condemnation…”
This takes us back to Genesis 3 and the Fall of Adam and Eve. Olearius calls it, “Moses’ condemnation” because Moses is the author of Genesis.
The Lord God told Adam that he was free to eat of every tree in the Garden of Eden except for the tree in the middle of the Garden – “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” “For the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
But of course, eat of it he did, along with his wife Eve, and the ‘curse’ of God for disobedience and rejection of His Word was upon them, and through them, upon the whole world.
Before removing Adam and Eve from the Garden however, God gave them another Word to believe in and live by. Not a word of CURSE but a word of PROMISE. The ‘offspring of the women’ would crush the head of the serpent and make all things right again.
The woman who’s offspring would fulfill this promise was not Eve but of course, Mary. And her ‘offspring’ was our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He came into the world to fulfill the promise made to Adam and Eve in the Garden. And He accomplishes His purpose by His death on the cross where He is wounded as the punishment for sin that we deserve, and by His resurrection from the dead where He crushes the head of the serpent. As the devil brought death into the world through a man, now God has brought life to the dead through a man, and the devil’s power is nullified.
All this took place according to God’s timetable. The whole Old Testament is a purposeful preparation for the birth of the offspring of the woman. And then, as the entire progression of human history was about to come to its goal on Christmas day, a man named John was sent by God to “prepare the way.”
III. Stanza 2
“Before he yet was born, he leaped in joyful meeting,
Confessing Him as Lord whose mother he was greeting.
By Jordan’s rolling stream, a new Elijah bold,
He testified of Him of whom the prophets told.”
John testifies to the coming of the Lord while both he and his Lord are still hidden in their mother’s womb. St. Luke records the details in such a way as to make it perfectly clear that the news of Mary’s pregnancy could not possibly have reached her cousin Elizabeth ahead of time.
Luke writes, that after the annunciation by the angel Gabriel, “Mary arose and went WITH HASTE” from Nazareth to “a town in Judah” where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. Elizabeth reports that it was “at the sound of your greeting” that the baby in her womb leaped for joy. (Luke 1:39-40)
John’s very first convert and believer was his own mother who is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41)
So what we see here is that the work of the Holy Spirit is in no way limited by age. John is still a minus three months from being born and Elizabeth is an old woman, “well advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7)
After his birth, John disappears from the scene until he appears again in Bethany across the Jordan. Olearius calls him, “a new Elijah bold…” Why is it that John the Baptist is so often identified with the prophet Elijah?
The last prophet of the Old Testament is the prophet Malachi. In the 3rd chapter, Malachi declares, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (Mal.3:1). And then in chapter 4, Malachi identifies that messenger. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” (Mal.4:5).
Elijah was one of the great prophets of the Old Testament. He was bold and brash in calling Israel to repentance and faith. And Elijah life in this world ended in a very unusual way. He didn’t actually die. His predecessor, the prophet Elisha, saw he taken up into the sky on “the chariots of Israel, and he was no more.” (2 Kings 2:12).
If you’ll remember the Transfiguration, the two witnesses who stand alongside of Jesus are Moses and Elijah. Moses, by his giving of the 10 Commandments is the representative of the Law. And Elijah is the representative of all of the Prophets of the Old Testament.
John the Baptist is called to do what all of the prophets as represented in Elijah were called to do, prepare the people of God for the coming of the Lord. But John is the greatest of them all because he comes onto the scene “when the time had FULLY COME.”
IV. Stanza 3
“Behold the Lamb of God that bears the world’s transgression,
Whose sacrifice removes the devil’s dread oppression.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sin,
Who for our peace and joy will full atonement win.”
It happened that one day, as John was preaching to his ‘great crowd’ in the wilderness, he recognized one face in the midst of the congregation and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
The next day, while John was standing with two of his own disciples, Jesus walked by. And once again, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Both of these statements are recorded in John’s Gospel.
I have always found it fascinating that John would have called Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” the “Agnus Dei.” This is the only time in all the Scriptures that the Christ is referred as “the Lamb of God.” It seems unlikely that anyone would have been thinking of the coming Messiah in these terms.
Israel was however very familiar with the importance of ‘lambs’ to their salvation. In Exodus 12, Moses tells every household to take a young, male lamb without blemish and sacrifice it and mark the doorframe of the house with its blood. Those so marked by the blood of the lamb, and only those so marked, would be where death would Passover over.
Israel understood that a ‘lamb’ was the acceptable substitute for their sins. They, the sinner, would sacrifice an innocent lamb at the Temple, and the Priest would declare that all of their sins were forgiven.
John the Baptist has a crystal clear understanding that Jesus the Messiah, would be the One Lamb who would be the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. By His blood shed on behalf of sinners, He would atone for the sin of sinners. And because He is fully God, the price would be great enough to atone for the sins of every sinner, from the first to the last.
V. Stanza 4
“O grant, dear Lord of love, that we receive, rejoicing,
The word proclaimed by John, our true repentance voicing,
That gladly we may walk upon our Savior’s way
Until we live with Him in His eternal day.”
So, first of all, let’s just take note of the change in the direction of this stanza. Now we are no longer hearing a sermon about John the Baptist. Now the text is from us to God, now we are praying.
Olearius has us address “the Lamb of God” as the “dear Lord of love.” What other way is there to think of our Lord who lays down His life to save ours, than the “dear Lord of love.” By His own definition, Jesus says, “greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). You and I have been loved with the greatest love the world has ever known, because Jesus Christ, the Son of God laid down His life for us.
And so we are directed to pray that our “dear Lord of love” would assure both or heart and our head that He loves us so that we may receive the word proclaimed by John with ‘REJOICING,’ and that we ‘GLADLY walk upon our Savior’s way.” REJOICING’ and ‘GLADNESS’ at the call to repent and turn from or sins and follow the way of our Lord, which is the way of the cross, is a sign of faith. Even though there is bound to be suffering and pain along the way, the daily denial of worldly temptations and self-denial, the constant battle between the good that we will to do and evil that we hate – there is in the midst of all of this a “Rejoicing” and “Gladness” that is based on the knowledge that the one whom we serve has served us with His very life.
And so, we wait with patience and perseverance that day when our “Lord of love” will take us into “His eternal day;” a never ending day of ‘rejoicing’ and ‘gladness’ when all of the suffering and pain and daily denial and battle again sin is over.
I hope that you have found these times of Advent retreat worthwhile. And I hope that we might have discovered together a new appreciation for the three Advent hymns that we have considered as well as the usefulness of the hymnal as a wonderful source of meditation on God’s Word.
Each hymn has an author, and to get to know the author adds some depth to our appreciation of the hymn. It’s nice to get to know the translators too. Every single one of the hymns in our hymnal have been carefully chosen because they point us to Jesus.