Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Desperate Longing

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

A Desperate Longing: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Written in a minor key, perhaps this 12th Century Latin hymn is not at the forefront of our playlist when we think of Christmas carols.  It is however, at the forefront of human existence, human need, and the historical narrative of redemption.  It echoes the cry of every human heart whether they know or understand what it is they long for.  But in context, it resounds with the cry of God-fearing people who hunger for the appearance of Messiah, particularly the Old Testament people of Israel.  It was to them that the promise of Emmanuel was given, that is to say, that God would come near.  That is the meaning of Emmanuel in Isaiah 7:14, “God is near”.  Under the oppression of captivity the people of Israel yearned to be free, to see the Anointed One from God come to set them free in fulfillment of God’s promises.  The weight of their sin was now a palpable weight of human misery at the hands of their oppressors.  In their misery they cry, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”!  Let the power of God come and end our mourning!
The year is now 2013, and we are not under the bondage of a conquering nation.  Indeed, we are free, prosperous, and in the thinking of most Americans/westerners devoid of the mournful groveling that this song seems to represent…or are we?  You see for us this song may actually be more appropriate that for any other people.  For we are people who in reading the Old Testament Law understand that we are in bondage, cruel bondage, to something far more problematic than a foreign invasion.  We are under the bondage of our sin.  A problem that is ever-present, internationally pervasive, and for which there is no human hope.  So we sing.  And we do not sing this song for the sake of singing, but for the sake of souls yearning for a salvation that is both informed as to our sinful condition, and infused with the hope of the promises of God.  Namely that God will come near to us.  This is where all good Christmas must originate from, an awareness of our miserable plight and trust in the promises of God.
As we sing this song we are thankful that we have a broader perspective that will make the singing of other Christmas hymns more meaningful, for Christ has come, and in Him God has come near.  Emmanuel has happened!  The Savior has ransomed the once captive Israel of God, and He has done so one life at a time.  No longer are we in lonely exile, but in the warm confines of the King’s family palace!  The Dayspring has ignited the fire of life, love and adoration in the freeing work of the Gospel.  Indeed our Heavenly home is now open through Jesus Christ, God’s faithful work of becoming our Emmanuel.
Yet is appropriate to recall through this hymn the process and progress of our own salvation.  Recalling the misery of life before and without Christ, so that the appearance of Christ might become more precious to us.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel, 
That mourns in lonely exile here 
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high, 
Who ordered all things mightily; 
To us the path of knowledge show, 
and teach us in her ways to go. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might, 
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height 
In ancient times gave holy law, 
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem, 
From ev'ry foe deliver them 
That trust your mighty pow'r to save; 
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, O Key of David, come, 
And open wide our heav'nly home; 
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high, 
And cheer us by your drawing nigh, 
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death's dark shadows put to flight. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind 
In one the hearts of all mankind; 
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease, 
And be yourself our King of Peace. 
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to you, O Israel!

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