|"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!
(No. 211, The United Methodist Hymnal, © 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House)
By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
Many are familiar with these beautiful words from the great hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." The origins of this song have been traced back to the ninth century. The text developed as a series of liturgical phrases, used during Advent.
Each stanza concentrates on a different biblical name for Christ, making this hymn a rich source for Christmas meditation. Jesus is Emmanuel—"God with us," "Wisdom from on high," "Desire of nations," and "Dayspring."
The hymn happens to be one of my favorites. It might also be the "theme song" for the Church and for all humanity as we move through the seasons of Advent and Christmas 2009.
It seems humankind has become exiled from itself. We have become captives to our own greed, ignorance, and shortsightedness. Much is wrong in our world today, and it seems more and more difficult to find what is right. Rapid changes are driving our world. It looks as though many have lost their way and are heading nowhere.
Roadside markers long familiar to us—such as family, faith, and significance—are no longer clearly visible. Thus we wander in the wilderness of our discontent.
The Church, once viewed widely as the greatest hope for all that is good, also seems to be in exile from the very humanity it seeks to serve and save—and, at times, from God as well.
Within the Church, the Christian community is caught in debate about relevancy and involvement. If the preacher speaks to the social and political ills of our time, he or she is labeled by some as too involved in politics and is told that a pastor has no business there. Others declare that, if the pastor does not address issues of our time, he/she is irrelevant.
But these problems are not simply the problems of the Church. The entire human race is struggling with priorities and values.
I once read a story about a little boy who broke into a large department store. Instead of stealing anything, he switched the price tags on every piece of merchandise in the store. When the store opened the next day, everything was in chaos. No one knew the value of anything.
That mirrors our world. Our value system has dipped to a new low. Our priorities are confused; we treat people like things and things like people.
Thus I say our theme song should be:
"O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here."
Wait; don’t give up!
Before you throw in the towel of hope, let me remind you: This is exactly why the season of Advent is so important to us today. Advent is the time to set straight our thinking and hold high our expectations.
It is the time for us to allow God to do the unexpected—just as God did that night in Bethlehem!
Despite the worst of life, despite the chaos within the world, you and I have God’s assurance that there is always something more, something better, beyond this moment.
When we experience weakness, fear, loneliness, or a sense of futility, when it appears all that is good and decent has bottomed out, Jesus Christ breaks forth! He invites us from our wilderness exile into his presence, to share our lives with him, and to expect God to make some changes through it all, despite it all.
My friends, God always offers the added extra if we give God the opportunity.
Throughout this Advent season, God gives to us—to everyone and all of humankind—a message that contains a promise, hope, joy, and love. Because of that message, we don’t get weary in well-doing because we know God will make a way out of no way!
This Advent, I am anticipating the true Christ, who sweeps away all our petty and simplistic judgments of people. I am expecting the true Son of God, who puts an end to our tendency to think of ourselves as righteous and pure. I am looking for the Messiah, who is concerned about all humanity and our relationships with each other.
In summary, I am no different from those shepherds or wise men or others in that troubled world two centuries ago, those who also were looking for and in anticipation of Messiah!
What about you?
This Advent and Christmas, keep your expectations clear and your highest hopes fixed on the promises of God. God has promised us a Savior and, knowing God as I do, God will keep His word.
"Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!"