My favorite Christmas hymn this year has been Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley. Word on the street (Wikipedia) is that Wesley wrote the song in light of two things: Haggai 2:7 and the injustice (perhaps either slavery or the plight of orphans) he witnessed over 250 years ago.
Haggai 2:7 says, “And I will shake the nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of Hosts.”
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
Now, when you think of your favorite Christmas verses, Haggai 2:7 probably doesn’t come to mind. In fact, I’d be impressed if anything brought the book of Haggai to your mind. Most of us don’t know how to pronounce it or where to find it in the Bible , much less what the book has to say about the coming of Jesus Christ. And, if you are like me, you probably asked, “How in the world did Charles Wesley go from Haggai 2:7 to Come Thou Long Expected Jesus? ” While we don’t have access to Wesley’s thought life, we do have access to the same Book that shaped it. Here are my somewhat-informed guesses on his thoughts, on why Haggai 2:7 is a Christmas verse. I hope it helps you sing, “Come, Lord Jesus!” with a greater sense of sweetness and urgency.
Background. The book of Haggai is a set of oracles from to the remnant of Judah, recently returned from exile. The people were sent back to Jerusalem charged with rebuilding the temple that the Babylonians had destroyed. It was not a small task. The original temple was built during the height of Israel’s peace and prosperity. It took seven years, thousands of skilled laborers and vast amounts of gold, precious stones and massive cedars. Those who knew the temple in its previous glory undoubtedly knew that they could never replicate it (2:3). So, they focused on building their own houses instead (1:4). The Lord made it clear he was not well pleased with their priorities (1:6-11). Amazingly, the people actually repent, obey the command to rebuild and set themselves to work (1:12). In response, the Lord reaffirms his presence, declaring in repetition, “I am with you” (1:13 and 2:4-5).
In this context, the Lord of Hosts rattles off a string of promises to the remnant of his people. Rowdy Christmas promises, methinks.
Promise 1: “I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land” (verse 6).
Biblical authors used “shaking” language to recall or foretell cosmic, divine action. It’s what the Lord did when he delivered his people out of Egypt (Psalm 77:18) and King David out of his trouble (2 Samuel 22:8 and Psalm 18:7); it’s the judgement God proclaimed on the nations that oppressed his people (Isaiah 13:13, 14:16, 23:11 and 24:19, Joel 2:10 and 3:6, Habakkuk 3:6). Using theophany language, God is promising to do something significant on behalf of his people. We’re talking about a cosmic event, one that alters the landscape of the world and of history.
Promise 2: “And I will shake the nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in” (verse 7a).
This is not the shaking of a violent man, so filled with anger that he forgets himself. The Lord does not shake willy-nilly. He has an aim in his cosmic intervention, namely that the treasures of the nations would come to the temple. Picture the Lord taking the world in his two hands and giving it a good rattling. As the kingdoms of the earth crumble, the Lord so tilts the planet’s axis that the nations flow to the temple, filling it with their wealth and restoring it to glory.
Promise 3: “and I will fill this house with glory” (verse 7b).
The post-exilic community set their hands to rebuilding, knowing the promises God had made concerning his temple. Israel’s rebellion against the Lord drove his glory from the temple (Ezekiel 10), but a day was coming when he would return (Ezekiel 40-48). On that day, the beauty and majesty of the temple shall be restored (Isaiah 54:11-14, 60:5-7), and God will undo the destruction wrought through Israel’s unfaithfulness. He will bring his wayward people back to himself (Isaiah 60:4). But, he’s going to do more. He’s going to break the stubborn hearts of the nations and bring them to his throne and to his presence, as well (Jeremiah 3:17, Isaiah 60:1-7).
Promise 4: “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former” (verse 9a).
Though the rubble once known as a temple appeared as nothing in the eyes of those who knew its former glory (Ezra 3:12-13, Haggai 2:3), things were going to change. The people would know the Lord has acted when the temple is not only rebuilt, but when it’s glory is greater than ever before. He would turn their weeping into joy.
Promise 5: “And in this place I will give peace” (verse 9b).
You likely know that the Hebrew word for peace (“shalom”) means much more than a mere absence of conflict. Rather, it refers to a time of flourishing, when everything is as it should be. Peace, quite simply, is the thing that we (and all of creation) long for. Note that peace is promised in the temple, the dwelling place of the Lord.
Taken together, these promises would have given a great sense of expectation. God was going to act in an awesome, earth-shaking way. After years under the Lord’s discipline, the people would finally experience his favor again. The temple would be rebuilt, with glory exceeding the former. The nations would offer their wealth and allegiance to the One true God. A day of peace and wholeness was on the horizon. And so, they built and waited.
And waited. Some Jews are still waiting. Their expectations have yet to be met. The second temple never reached its promised glory before it crumbled again. The nations triumphed over Jerusalem, instead of bowing to it. Things did not go as they should have gone.
But, God’s promises did not fail. There was, in fact, a cosmic intervention. A Savior was born in Bethlehem. The nations brought forth their wealth and bowed down: gold and frankincense and myrrh (Read Isaiah 60:6, then Matthew 2:1-12). They called his name Immanuel (Matthew 1:23), and, through him, God’s presence dwelt among us with a glory exceeding any building fashioned by human hands (John 1:14). He is the Temple that was torn down and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19-21). His death shook the earth (Matthew 27:51) and brought the nations to God (Ephesians 2:11-13). And, in this Prince, God has given Peace (Isaiah 9:6, Romans 5:1, Ephesians 2:14-22). Do you see it? The long-awaited promises were fulfilled in the long-expected Jesus.
He is coming back. Like God’s people of old, we wait for the day when God will shake the heavens and the earth again (Luke 21:26, Hebrews 12:26-28). We wait for a greater Temple, the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, to whom the nations will bow and bring treasure (Revelation 21:22-27). We wait for a day of peace, when we have freedom from our fears, when the battle with sin will be over, when cancer and chronic pain are no more, when children are no longer murdered, when justice is done to terrorists, when death itself is thrown away, when those of every tribe, tongue, people and nation gather before God’s throne, when we will see the glory of Jesus Christ with unclouded vision, and the Lord sits with rule unquestioned and unchallenged rule.
Charles Wesley was onto something, not on something. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus!” is a fitting Christmas exclamation, because it not only celebrates the coming of Christ as a baby, but the second coming of Christ as a triumphant and ruling King. It takes the sense of longing that Israel felt 2,500 years ago and puts it on our lips, as we await the completion of what was long ago promised. They waited for a King to set things right; we know the King’s name and wait for him to finish the work he started when he came as a baby.
Come, Lord Jesus. You are our Strength and Consolation. You are the Hope of all the earth, the Desire of every nation. You are the Joy of every longing heart. Set us free! Release us from our fears and sins. You are long expected. Come!