Rector's Reflections - 7 December

Rector’s Reflections

Thursday 7th December 2023

A Favourite Advent Hymn

We have now reached the third verse of the traditional Advent hymn, “Creator of the stars of night”. The third verse reads as follows :

“Thou camest, Bridegroom of the bride,

As drew the world to evening-tide,

Proceeding from a virgin shrine,

The Son of Man, yet Lord divine”

This verse introduces some difficult ideas, which were important to the Early Church, but which seem strange and perhaps irrelevant to us today. But are they really so irrelevant? I will look at each of these ideas in turn.

To start with,  I wonder what do you think of the idea of calling Jesus “Bridegroom of the bride”? What might this mean? The phrase goes back to Old Testament times, when one way of describing God’s love for the Jewish people was to say that God’s  love for the Jews was like a husband’s love for his wife.  In our time and culture, we might find this language rather sexist, and prefer to say that as a wife loves her husband, and a husband loves his wife, so does God love his people. The love between the parties to a marriage is an expression of mutual commitment, fidelity, and forbearance.  So a marriage relationship gives us an image to think about God’s relationship with his people; like all images, it has its limitations, but it helps us to think more clearly and more deeply about what God’s love might mean in practice. It also reminds us that God’s love for us operates in a context of mutuality : yes, God loves us, unconditionally, but we, too, should love God.  Love goes both ways.

Given this Old Testament background, it was natural for early Christians to use the same image to talk about Jesus’s relationship with the members of his Church : Jesus was  the “Bridegroom” and the Church was the “Bride”. In many cultures, weddings are a time for feasting and celebration. So it is not surprising that some early Christians talked about their encounter with Jesus in terms of an invitation to attend  His wedding banquet.

Of course another aspect of a wedding banquet is that it is usually limited to invited guests. The host has sent us an invitation, which we have chosen to accept. If Jesus is the host at his own wedding banquet, do we accept his invitation, or do we make excuses?  Have we allowed ourselves to become distracted, and forgotten all about it? Jesus told a story about this : it’s the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and it’s found in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s certainly worth a read during these days of Advent. Will we be welcomed at the wedding banquet? I hope and pray so.


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