On Jordan’s Bank The Baptist’s Cry
In the Gospel lesson for the third Sunday of Advent, St. Matthew 11: 2-10, we have Jesus talking first with St. John’s disciples, answering John’s question as to whether He is really the Messiah or not. After John’s disciples depart, Jesus turns to the crowd to praise John for the constancy of his message, for the spartan life that he had lived in the Judean desert as he was announcing the news of the coming of the Messiah, and for his faithful stewardship of the work given to him. John has indeed been a faithful minister of the word, preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah, which was the charge given him to do.
This Advent hymn reminds us clearly of St. John’s ministry in the desert, preaching repentance and the coming of the Messiah. You will recall that crowds came out from the cities to see John, to listen to him preach and to receive baptism in the Jordan river for the forgiveness of sin. John’s ministry was one of preparation only, much like Advent itself. But the preparation itself is all for nought if the fulfillment is not eventually given. Thus it is Jesus Christ that is really the point of John’s ministry, and when Christ comes, it is time for John to diminish and disappear. He has done his part, but when it is over, he is only in the way if he lingers and prevents people from getting to Christ Himself. As the third verse says,
For thou art our salvation, Lord, Our refuge, and our great reward. This is the role of John the Baptist, to prepare all for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of Kings.
The words are by Charles Coffin, written in 1736.and usually sung to the hymn tune Winchester New. There is one example provided below with a different musical setting.
1 On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and harken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of Kings.
2 Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
Make straight the way of God within,
And let each heart prepare a home
Where such a mighty guest may come.
3 For thou art our salvation, Lord,
Our refuge, and our great reward;
Without thy grace we waste away
Like flowers that wither and decay.
4 To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
And bid the fallen sinner stand;
Shine forth, and let thy light restore
Earth’s own true loveliness once more.
5 All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
Whose advent doth thy people free;
With whom the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost for evermore. Amen.
Here are several places where you may hear this hymn:
On Jordan’s Bank (Winchester New)
With Bach music