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Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies

 

“Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies”   This joyous morning hymn comes from Charles Wesley (1707-1788), who along with his brother, John, founded the Methodist Church as a “renewal” movement of the Church of England.  Charles wrote thousands of hymns, many of which are beloved in Christendom.  His, for example, is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  In the first stanza of this morning hymn can we see the unmistakable imagery of Charles Wesley, “Christ, whose glory fills the skies, Christ, the true and only light, Sun of righteousness, arise, Triumph o’er the shades of night. . .”  This stanza echoes Wesley’s famous Christmas hymn, but derives inspiration from Malachi 4: 2, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.”  This is no doubt a foreshadowing of the “Son” of righteousness who will bring healing in His wings.  As at Christmastide (actually, 21 December), when the days begin to lengthen and we are reminded daily in nature that Christ is the Sun of Righteousness, this hymn reminds us that the Sun of Righteousness is present daily—even with more certainty than that with which we greet the daybreak.  The stanza continues with veiled references to Christ, the “Dayspring from on high” and the “Daystar, in my heart appear.”  The Dayspring reference can be traced to Isaiah 9:1, “The people in darkness have seen a great light,” this light sometimes being translated as “dayspring.”  The Daystar is also that “bright, morningstar” which can often be seen right before dawn.  Since this star is actually a planet (Venus), its theological import is even more precise.  Just as Venus merely reflects the light of the sun, so, too, does Christ reflect the light of God the Father. 

            Notice Wesley’s text painting in the second stanza, “Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by Thee; joyless is the day’s return, Till Thy mercy’s beams I see, Till they inward light impart, Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.”  Just as the morning is not the morning without the sun, our faith is meaningless without Christ.  To use a cliché befitting a church committee, the astute reader of music notes may have an “ah-ha!” moment.  (Apologies for the cliché—it won’t happen again.)  Wesley now speaks of “inward light” which warms “my heart.”  Charles Wesley may begin his texts with grand, universal, celestial themes, but he quickly personalizes them so that we realize we are not singing about a metaphorical Deity, but One who relates to us personally.  The Wesleys both believed in a sort of “heartfelt” faith as opposed to one that was “intellectually objective” (although one might argue that those two “poles” are not incongruous), and such was partly a reaction to the Deism of the time which posited that God started the heavens in motion, but now has left humanity to its own devices and remains personally unknown to us. 

The third stanza prayerfully implores Christ to “Visit then this soul of mine, pierce the gloom of sin and grief; fill me, radiancy divine, scatter all my unbelief;  more and more Thyself display, shining to the perfect day.”  Here Wesley compares “sin and grief” to unbelief—a useful thought in today’s world in which the endless questioning of authority (particularly of organized religion) is somehow a badge of honor and announces one to be a true “intellectual.”  Unbelief is the result of sin, and belief can only come from Christ.  Just as Christ derives his essence from the Father, we likewise derives our spiritual capabilities as a Christian from Christ Himself.  We are able to be justified only through Christ’s redemption, and we are only sanctified through the word of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps we would do well to remember this every morning when we rise to greet the sun!

Holy, Holy, Holy

“Holy, Holy, Holy.”    These music notes will consider Trinitarian theology as exemplified in the opening hymn today.  In our modern world, the doctrine of God and the Trinity may be seen as impractical and of little use to the modern Christian.  This Sunday hopefully allows us to see the importance of the Trinity to our lives.  Let us consider here one aspect of trinitarian theology.  The three “Persons” of the Trinity are distinct from one another.  Consider Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 4;  Luke 3) and the simultaneous presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Galatians 1: 1 states that Paul, the writer, was sent by “Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.”  The Father and Son are distinct—the Son suffered and died, the Father did not.  In John 14, Jesus asks the Father to send another “Counselor,” or “Comforter,” ie., the Holy Spirit, to the disciples.  This is clearly “another” entity and not a manifestation of the Father or a reincarnation of the Son.  The Transfiguration account (Luke 9) also implies a distinction between the Father and Son.  Yet, these Persons are all God.  In John 10: 30, Jesus states that “I and the Father are one.”  Knowledge of one is the knowledge of the other, for Christ contends that if “You knew me, you would know my Father also.”  (John 8: 19)  Similarly, a rejection of one is the rejection of the other, as Christ states in Luke 10: 16, “He who listens to you listens to me;  he who rejects you rejects me;  but he who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.”  The Holy Spirit as well participates with and, indeed, is a part of the Godhead, for the “eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God. . .” (Heb. 9: 14)  Likewise, a knowledge of God proceeds from a working of the Holy Spirit, for “. . . no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God. . .” (I Cor. 2: 11-12)   That there is some intimate connection between God and the Holy Spirit seems to suggest a deep unity of substance. 

            Amongst the three Persons of the Godhead, the binding characteristic is “love,” for “God is love.”  (I John 4: 16)  This concept of “love,” however, must not be confused with any sort of human, romantic conceptions.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Ethics, comments upon this passage that, “This sentence is to be read with the emphasis on the word God, whereas we have fallen into the habit of emphasizing the word love.  God is love;   that is to say not a human attitude, a conviction or deed, but God Himself is love. . . it is not that we first of all by nature know what love is and therefore know also what God is.”  Love is demonstrated most perfectly by the Trinity, from whom all love proceeds.  Perhaps the constitution of this love is “giving.”  The Father has given of Himself in the creation of the world and in the giving of His Son;  likewise, the Son gives of Himself as the “propitiation” for our sins and the Spirit gives of Himself to the Church and Christians on earth.  Returning to I John 4, the writer suggests that “God showed His love among us:  He sent His one and only Son into the world. . .”  In this way, “sending” and “giving” are constituent and tangible elements of love.  Furthermore, the text continues, “We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”  (13)  In order truly to understand and experience love—to understand and experience the full nature of the Trinity, then—human beings must participate in loving and giving.  The active, altruistic giving of ourselves to others in service allows for humanity to participate in the universal love that characterizes the love of God within the Trinity.  “Love,” then, is not merely some abstract feeling or abstruse notion, since, as in I John 5: 2, we know that we are children of God by “. . . loving God and carrying out His commands.”  Love is in active service to one another.  The doctrine of the Trinity is not—should not be—a mere academic, theological oddity pondered only by scholastics and monastics-- but can serve as a means by and through which Christians live lives of service to one another and to God.

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