Advent Hymn: “Hark, what a sound”

This Advent, we’re looking at three Advent hymns. Today’s hymn is comparatively recent, but it’s one that I keep finding myself quoting; in fact, a few years ago, I had not remembered ever singing it, but a phrase from the last verse leaped into my mind and stayed there until I looked up which hymn it came from.

Hark, what a sound, and too divine for hearing,
stirs on the earth and trembles in the air!
Is it the thunder of the Lord’s appearing?
Is it the music of his people’s prayer?

Surely he cometh, and a thousand voices
shout to the saints and to the deaf and dumb;
surely he cometh, and the earth rejoices,
glad in his coming who hath sworn, I come.

So even I, and with a pang more thrilling,
so even I, and with a hope more sweet,
yearn for the sign, O Christ, of thy fulfilling,
faint for the flaming of thine advent feet.

This hath He done, and shall we not adore Him?
This shall He do, and can we still despair?
Come, let us quickly fling ourselves before Him,
Cast at His feet the burden of our care.

Yea, through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning,
he shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

(Thanks to “ancientandmodern” for the fourth verse, which isn’t in our hymnal and so of which I was unaware, and for pointing out the long poem about the life of Saint Paul from which this is adapted.)

One reason I like this hymn is that it’s not just about the First Advent. As I wrote last year, Advent is also about God’s coming to his people in judgment throughout history, and about his coming in glory. (Maranatha!) And this hymn is about “Christ’s Advent” generally, including his coming in the flesh, his coming in judgment, and most centrally his coming in glory.

The tune to which this is sung (I’m not sure that the tune in our hymnal is the standard tune, but if not either tune to which this is sung) is a somewhat somber, almost melancholy-sounding tune. Which is utterly fitting for Advent, but not entirely suitable for the eager anticipation of much of this text. (It doesn’t help that the harmonization in our hymnal is too complicated to sight-read.)

My favorite verse is the last. This verse is the one that made me dig up this hymn, as I mentioned above, when the closing couplet leaped into my mind, and it is the reason why I count this hymn as a favorite. (Now that I know about the fourth verse, that may join the last in this. We’ll see.) The verse is one of the clearest statements I know of in hymnody of the importance of Jesus:

Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

As Paul says, all things were made by him and for him; he is the First (in primacy and importance as well as time) and the Last, the Beginning and the (teleological as well as chronological) End. This is a truth that we can hardly dwell on enough.

And would that I could entirely truthfully sing the second verse:

So even I …
yearn for the sign, O Christ, of thy fulfilling,
faint for the flaming of thine advent feet.

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

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