During this season of Advent, we often sing this ancient hymn. It dates back nearly 900 years, and continues to be sung and/chanted in Latin. https://hymnary.org/text/o_come_o_come_emmanuel_and_ransom
The hymn is a contrast of weary longing and hopeful prophecy. The promised Messiah has not yet arrived, but his coming is sure, and cause for great rejoicing.
The hymn is also a prayer– pleading for the coming of Messiah, even as it comforts with the reminder that he WILL come. And it reminds us of the power of prayer– not just the power of approaching Almighty God, but the power of acknowledging our longings, our needs, and our dependence on God. Even in our darkest hours, even in captivity and oppression, we can have hope in God’s timing and wisdom. He DOES see our struggle; he DOES care, and he WILL send hope and rescue.
But the song also points out a pitfall–in the first verse, the prayer is for Emmanuel to rescue Israel from Roman Occupation; to end its immediate plight of being politically and economically oppressed. There were many people who saw Messiah, heard him speak, even felt his touch, who rejected him because he did not do what they were expecting. There are many today who cannot believe in Jesus Christ because he doesn’t take away their current circumstances of pain and suffering.
In their narrow focus, people miss the greater miracle of what Messiah is all about. Jesus did not come to free us from temporary troubles and trials; to make us comfortably apathetic or arrogantly victorious over personal poverty or sickness. He came to free us to be able to overcome our circumstances to offer hope where there seems to be no hope. He came to show us that our circumstances don’t define us or cut us off from God’s love; that our past is not more powerful than His forgiveness and power to heal; that even suffering and oppression can be endured with joy, even as we work together to overcome them.
This season, as we sing this hymn, I pray that we would see the continuation of this prayer. Emmanuel HAS come– Jesus not only came and won the victory over sin and death on Calvary; he has commissioned US to be the bearers of the Good News. There are dark places in the world praying for hope and rescue to COME. Will we share the love of Christ in our own neighborhoods? When we bear the name of Christ, we should be on mission to rescue those who are captives, not of Rome, but of Sin and the tyranny of Death. So that we all can know the reason to Rejoice! Rejoice!
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