The orchestra starts. Strings and a few winds and brass. It sounds like a great multitude is walking--almost marching. Then the choir comes in:
The men and altos sing above Philipp Nicolai's chorale tune: Wachet auf! Wachet auf! Wake up! Wake up!
It's the story of the ten wise virgins from Matthew 25. They all had their lamps, but fell asleep when the Bridgroom failed to come when expected. When the Bridegroom finally did appear, only 5 of the virgins had enough oil.
I write this on October 22nd, a day that will mean a lot to my Seventh-day Adventist friends and readers, but not a lot to anyone else. The short version of the story says that William Miller, a Deist turned Baptist preacher studied the Bible extensively and came to the conclusion that Jesus would return to this earth to cleanse the sanctuary (see Daniel 8:14) somewhere around 1843, finally settling on Samuel Snow's date of October 22, 1844. That day, Yom Kippur, was the fulfillment of the 2300 day prophecy.
But Jesus didn't come. Later revelations showed that Jesus wasn't supposed to come that day, but instead moved on to the heavenly judgment, actively proving to the universe that God is just and that sinners who ask for his cleansing blood will receive it.
Bach to Bach...
We're in the middle movement now of the cantata no. 140. It's the very familiar "Sleepers Awake."
William Miller was the watchman. He said that Jesus was coming! With the best light he had, he even tried to set a date. But most importantly he shared the love of Jesus. That was his main point. He said "Jesus is coming," but also, more importantly, shared the love of Christ and the importance of having a saving relationship with him.
Adventists learned not to set dates. We learned that setting the date isn't important. It's just important to be ready, to have our lamps trimmed and burning.
After the Great Disappointment, William Miller didn't give up hope! He wrote in "The Midnight Cry" on December 5, 1855 the following note, "Although I have been twice disappointed, I am not yet cast down or discouraged... I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light--and that is Today, TODAY, and TODAY until He comes, and I see Him for whom my soul yearns."
I think my favorite (or at least one of my favorite) old Advent songs is "We Know Not the Hour" (SDAH 604), especially the refrain. The women and men split several times, though only for a few notes each time. The women sing "He will come" with a dotted crunch of a full step and the men sing quarter notes in octaves "He will come." To me those quarter notes are as effective as any Baroque motor rhythm to keep the assurance of Christ's soon coming.
The Adventist pionners had faith in Jesus coming, even when their hearts had been broken by his failure to appear on October 22, 1844. But their faith never wavered. "He will come" was their eternal song.
I'm a Classical musician, a growing Christian, and a world traveler. I'm learning, exploring, and trying to understand this wonderful world I live in.