Once he came in blessing – Jan Robitscher

Catherine Winkworth (1827-78)
From Johann Roh (1485?-1547)
Public Domain

Tune: GOTTES SOHN IST KOMMEN Michael Weisse (d. 1534)

Jan Robitscher

Jan Robitscher

Once he came in blessing,
All our ills redressing;
came in likeness lowly,
Son of God most holy;
bore the cross to save us,
hope and freedom gave us.

Still he comes within us,
still his voice would win us
from the sins that hurt us;
would to Truth convert us:
not in torment hold us,
but in love enfold us.

Thus if thou canst name him,
not ashamed to claim him,
but wilt trust him boldly,
nor dost love him coldly,
he will then receive thee,
heal thee, and forgive thee.

One who thus endureth
bright reward secureth.
Come then, O Lord Jesus,
from our sins release us;
let us here confess thee,
till in heaven we bless thee.

Jan Robitscher

This text, from the German text, Gottes Sohn ist kommen, by Johann Roh was first published in the German Bohemian Brethren Hymnal in 1544, originally with nine stanzas, four of which (1,2,3 and 9) are included in The Hymnal 1982.[1] (from) The English translation is mostly that of Catherine Winkworth.  The tune is a more authentic form of the original melody, reflecting the desire of the Hymnal 1982 to use original melodic forms wherever possible.[2]

Advent has always been a time most closely associated with preparations for the celebration of Christmas—God coming into our world in the birth of Jesus. Indeed, the season of Advent was first celebrated in the late 4th century as a penitential season leading up to baptisms on January 6, the Epiphany. Our present-day popular culture (when not fixated on the secular side of this season) remains focused on preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Until recently the lectionaries of most denominations (Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic especially) also centered on Israel’s longing for a savior, the prophets leading up to John the Baptist and culminating in the Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus—God entering our world.

One of the gifts of the Revised Common Lectionary is that it has enlarged the themes of Advent beginning with readings in the last weeks of November, recapturing a glimpse of the original six-week Advent. Here we find not just the coming of Christ but the comings of Christ. These themes are beautifully expressed in the hymn text ‘Once he came in blessing’.

Once he came in blessing,
All our ills redressing;
came in likeness lowly,
Son of God most holy;
bore the cross to save us,
hope and freedom gave us.

The first verse gives us the coming of Jesus in the past and the life-changing work of his saving death on the cross. Its Lutheran overtones are consonant with the origins of this hymn, centering on the cross and the saving work of his death (and resurrection) as the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry. God enters our world not in any grand way, but in the birth of Jesus, long ago, in Bethlehem.

Still he comes within us,
still his voice would win us
from the sins that hurt us;
would to Truth convert us:
not in torment hold us,
but in love enfold us.

The second verse speaks of the coming of Jesus in the present. Leaning toward a more traditional, penitential notion of the Advent Season, Jesus comes to ‘win us from the sins that hurt us’. In this conversion of life, we find a loving God who is waiting to enfold us (think hug from God) in a redeeming love we need so badly in our world of war, disease, famine, division and hatred that surrounds us today.

But how do we receive this love from God?

Thus if thou canst name him,
not ashamed to claim him,
but wilt trust him boldly,
nor dost love him coldly,
he will then receive thee,
heal thee, and forgive thee.

The third verse reveals that we must be willing to name God, to name Jesus and claim him as the Savior for whom we long, and to love him, a very small return on the depths to which he loves us. If we allow God in, then we can receive the healing and forgiveness that will bring us peace.

One who thus endureth
bright reward secureth.
Come then, O Lord Jesus,
from our sins release us;
let us here confess thee,
till in heaven we bless thee.

The final verse expresses our hope for the future. While not centered on the second coming of Christ—a prominent theme in our current Lectionary, it does point us to the hope that our endurance in this life, together with Jesus’ saving acts that bring us forgiveness when we fail, will bring us the joy of blessing Jesus in heaven when we have run the course of this life.

This Advent hymn is one of my favorites. I love early hymns and this melody is close to the original. Simple and quiet, it begins the Advent section of the Hymnal as Advent begins. The verses encompass the comings of Christ: in the past at his birth, in the present in Word, Sacrament and in the faces of all we meet in whatever way during this Covid-time, and in the hope of blessing Jesus in heaven and receiving him at his second coming. It is interesting that “Jesus” and “Christ” are never mentioned in these lovely verses yet the person of Jesus the Christ, and our relationship to him, is the focus of this hymn. May it bring you peace, joy and courage in these times.

Prayer:

O God, whose mercies are without number, we thank you for the many ways you come to us. Like the prophets and seers of old we long for a Savior in our world ravaged by CoVid, war, racial and other divisions, and to redeem us from our sins. You came to bring us life and health and peace. Help us to see you now, even as we are “alone-together”, and grant us the courage so to so claim you in this life that we may rejoice to greet you when you come again in glory. Amen.

[1] The Hymnal 1982 (New York: Church Hymnal Corp.); Raymond Glover, The Hymnal 1982 Companion (New York: Church Publishing Inc., 1990), Once he came in blessing #53, Vol. 3, p. 95.

[2] The Hymnal 1982 Companion, pp. 96-7.

Have you considered becoming a member of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland? We are accepting membership through PayPal or Bank Transfer. Please click the button to be taken to our registration page.
Register to become a member