“Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:4)
Wake, O Wake and Sleep No Longer
The Advent hymn that most closely matches Sunday's Gospel (Wake, O Wake and Sleep No Longer) was not written as an Advent hymn at all. In fact, the hymn (both text and melody) was composed by a Lutheran pastor named Philipp Nicolai during a tragic epidemic in his parish in Westphalia, Germany in 1598. Seeking comfort for himself as much as for his flock, the pastor drew from Jesus' parable of the ten bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13), from the Book of Revelation and from other Scripture passages that focus attention on the coming of God's Kingdom. It is this “eschatological” tone that makes Nicolai's hymn so fitting for Advent: We recall Christ's first coming at Bethlehem in order to be ready, all of us, for his great Second Coming which will usher in “a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Musically, Nicolai's hymn served as the basis for Bach's great cantata Sleepers Wake (Wachet Auf) and also appears in Mendelssohn's oratorio Saint Paul. The setting used in most hymnals even today is based on Bach's arrangement.
Sister Anne Flanagan is a singer with the Daughters of St Paul Choir.
Here is the translation by the talented and prolific Catherine Winkworth:
Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.
Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her Star is risen, her Light is come.
Ah come, Thou blessèd One, God’s own belovèd Son:
Alleluia! We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.
Now let all the heavens adore Thee,
And saints and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone;
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where we are with the choir immortal
Of angels round Thy dazzling throne;
Nor eye hath seen, nor ear hath yet attained to hear
What there is ours, but we rejoice and sing to Thee
Our hymn of joy eternally.