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 you, O Israel.
As one of our oldest and most treasured of Advent hymns, this carol invites… actually more like pleads… “God with us” (Emmanuel) to come among us. In these words, one of the mysteries of our faith is opened up. You see, Advent is a time of waiting – a time when we prepare for Christ’s coming. The season begins a month prior to our Christmas celebrations, so much of our focus is on a very pregnant Mary who will soon give birth to our Savior. At the same time, many of our Sunday readings call us to reject our present ways, to repent, and to turn to new life. They often have an unsettling, apocalyptic edge to them as we await the return of Christ or Christ’s second coming.
As the mysteries of this “Advent waiting” expand, we are invited to slow down, to pay attention, to keep alert, and to be ready for Christ to come once again. And yet, we know God in Christ to be one who is always present with us. In fact, God never leaves us. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no. We know that Christ came among us over 2,000 years ago as a vulnerable baby born in a stable. We also know Christ died a most vulnerable and humiliating death on a cross. And we know that’s not the end of the story! In fact, it’s the beginning… for just 3 days later, Love conquers death through Jesus Christ. Resurrection and life eternal become gifts to us, God’s beloved, and our lives are forever transformed.
We also know that life in this world continues to be a challenge… a mess, even… that status and advantage are still grossly misused, that many are oppressed, many suffer. The powers of our world still press in on us. It is to this state of the world that Christ will return – for Christ’s work of peace and reconciliation is not done. The day is still coming when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
In the meantime, the Holy Spirit encourages us in the work of God’s kin-dom. And there’s plenty to do! We are to live into Christ’s example of “loving our neighbor as ourselves”… to address the needs of those in the world with less… to serve those around us. That’s a tall order, but with Emmanuel (“God with us”) on our side, it’s do-able!
This Advent time, I encourage you to quietly ponder these great mysteries of faith, to prepare for God’s coming among us, and to also step out there a bit by being the face of Christ to those around you!