More than any other hymn, this week’s hymn captures, explores, and responds to the imagery of the Advent season. This Sunday we will be singing “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” by 17th century hymn-writer Georg Weissel. In 5 stanzas he ties together the prophecies of the Psalms, the foretelling of the Messiah in the prophets, the humble coming of Jesus, our response, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The hymn draws much of its imagery from the Psalm for the day, Psalm 24.
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
5He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
My Lutheran Study Bible tells me that this Psalm may have been written by David when the Ark of the Covenant was brought back to Jerusalem. The response from verse 7, “Lift up your heads, O And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” may very well have been a liturgical response that the assembly sang or spoke during the praying of this Psalm. We can remember the triumphant procession (described in 1 Chronicles 15 and 16) and try to imagine what it must have been like to watch the ark of God Himself be brought into the city of God. It’s no wonder that they would shout to the gates to open and let in the King! We sing this psalm, however, not so much to remember the events of 1st Chronicles as to praise God for the ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm in our King Jesus. Just as the Ark of the Covenant was the presence of God among His people Israel, so Jesus is our Immanuel, which means “God with us”
Here’s stanza 1
Lift up your heads ye mighty gates!
Behold, the King of glory waits.
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here.
Lift and salvation He doth bring;
Therefore rejoice and gladly sing.
To God, the Father raise
Your joyful songs of praise.
The second stanza moves us into the humble earthly advent (coming) of our Savior.
A righteous Helper comes to thee;
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress.
The end of all our woe He brings;
Therefore the earth is glad and sings.
To Christ the Savior raise
Your grateful hymns of praise.
It is worth pointing out here that the traditional reading for the first Sunday in Advent is the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. On that day Jesus rode a very humble chariot- a simple donkey. This stanza is about more than the triumphal entry, however. It is also about the healing, mercy, and gladness that Jesus brings. Throughout the prophets, we hear how the Messiah will come and bring peace to Israel and salvation for all nations. This peace was described in last week’s reading from Isaiah 35:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
Jesus describes himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew 11
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
Jesus is the Messiah, the gentle king, who brings peace, healing, life, and the forgiveness of sins. He brings the end of our woe. All that we can do is gladly sing our most grateful hymns of praise.
How blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the ruler is confessed!
O peaceful hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!
The cloudless sun of joy is He
Who comes to set His people free.
To God the Spirit raise
Your happy shouts of praise.
I do not have a way of asking Georg Weissel whether he means the word ‘land’ to mean a country, the city of Jerusalem, or whole people of God. I think we can say that this stanza is not saying “God bless the USA” (but that’s a subject for another day). Perhaps we can just ask the question, “where is Christ the ruler confessed?” It seems that wherever Christ is confessed there is joy and freedom and happy shouts of praise. Why is the Spirit mentioned here? We’ll get our answers in the next stanzas
Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for heav’n’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sov’riegn enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To God alone be praise
For word and deed and grace!
We proclaim in this stanza that Christ should enter our hearts and dwell there. Christians believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths, as it says in Romans 10:
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
We have now moved from a festive procession in 1000BC to the Spirit living within us today. We learn in 1st Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Romans chapter 6 describes the new life in Christ for us:
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
This new life is ours in Christ by His grace. We pray for this, not only in Advent, but every time we pray “Thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s prayer. We pray that His kingdom may come among us also (Luther’s small catechism).
And now for stanza 5
Redeemer, come and open wide
My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
O enter with Thy grace divine;
Thy face of mercy on me shine.
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on
Until our glorious goal is won.
Eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
Stanzas 4 and 5 are not a faith creating decision for Christ. We know that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus or come to Him. It is only when Jesus comes, by His Holy Spirit, and opens wide our hearts that He is able to enter in. It is the Holy Spirit who guides us and keeps us in the one true faith unto life everlasting. We pray that Jesus will abide with us and always dwell in our hearts. We offer the response of eternal praise.
We end with a passage from Ephesians 2:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.