Hump Day Hymns {Advent Edition}: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
-Latin, c. 12th century (St. 1-2 trans. John Mason Neale (1818-1866); st. 3 trans. Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954)

As I had mentioned before, when I was young, Advent was a time of waiting for Christmas, a time in which I was excited about what would be under the tree for me. As I became older, in seminary and now as a pastor, Advent is the time in which I am excited for Christmas to come, and then be over, as it is an incredibly busy time for church work.

I have been to three funerals in the past week-and-a-half, one of which I officiated. In the short space between these funerals came the news of the shooting in Connecticut.

This year, Advent takes on a truer and more accurate yearning, not only for Christmas, but also for redemption and restoration to fully arrive.

Emmanuel/Immanuel means, as is commonly known, God with us.

Speaking of God-with-us is not some abstract conception of the Trinity. God, in Christ, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel is truly with us, in a very real sense, and all of our experiences.

When we mourn, God is with us, mourning. When we rejoice, God is with us, rejoicing. When we are angry with God and do not want God around, God is with us.

Much has been written over the past week about various comments by various people that God did not protect Sandy Hook because God was removed from schools. This is not only absurd, but it is edging on heresy. If God only went where God was wanted, God would have abandoned the ancient Israelites long ago, and God certainly wouldn’t have been enfleshed in an occupied territory of the Roman Empire.

We can live because we know that God is with us, that God goes everywhere with us. In fact, we can live because we know that God shows up particularly in places where God is not “wanted.”

We are told that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5) We also read, “…the light has come into the world, and the people loved darkness rather than light…” (John 3:19). The people to whom the light came loved the darkness, and executed the light. The story, however, continues. The light returned, brighter than ever to the very people who attempted to extinguish it.

God goes where God is not wanted precisely because God is better than us.

I want to go where I am wanted and stay away from those places where I am not wanted. If God is no better, if God is no more caring, if God is no more stubbornly loving than I am, we are all in trouble.

The Kingdom of God has arrived in Jesus who is God with us.

This hymn tells the story and gives the ending. We yearn for Christ to be with us again, to finish this work of restoration and redemption that was begun. It also gives us the hope and confidence that we can rejoice because God is with us, and that Christ will return to gather all the peoples, and that forever we will dwell on a new heaven and new earth, a redeemed and restored creation.

Hope is not simply something that allows us to wish for better things; hope is a confidence in something concrete, a better future, a future in which God’s desires are fully accomplished.

This past Sunday, while preaching on Advent as our yearning for Christ’s return, someone in the congregation spoke up.

“How can he return if he never left?”

How fitting. How true. God remains with us, and always will.

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