One of songs included in the performance was an a capello rendition of one of my favorite advent hymns: O Come O Come Emmanuel. I found myself deeply moved each time I heard the song rehearsed. It is a song with a deep sense of longing for deliverance from exile and captivity along with the hope of God-with-us. Even though it was written hundreds of years after Jesus (in the eighth or twelfth century), I think it evokes that sense of desperate yearning for the Messiah that the prophets expressed hundreds of years before (the song itself is based on Isaiah 7:14).
Over the last few years, a similar sense of longing for release and restoration has grown deeply in me. I long for God’s Spirit to sweep the earth and through his people, to bring the church—literally, his “called out ones”—to breathless life. These days, far too many of us are living way too small in the wide and large spaces of his kingdom—that “wide-open spacious life,” as Paul puts it: “Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. . . . Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!” (2 Cor. 6 Message). I long for the days when God’s people are who they are called and enabled to be. I long to see the ever-transforming kingdom life and with-God life explode, to see his people live as family and in love, to see his freedom, love, and right-ness embraced and sweep and dance through the streets in the wake of the Spirit that lives in us.
Sometimes, that sense of longing toes the line into darkness. I get mired in a sense of loss and the sheer seeming insurmountability of it all. But this hymn reminds me to do something I all too often forget:
Rejoice! Rejoice!It reminds me of Paul’s letter to Philippian believers, urging them to rejoice even in dark times: “Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute” (Philippians 4:4-5). “The Lord is near,” says another translation.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Celebrating and rejoicing like that comes out of the trust God calls us to, the trust that he is who says and can and will do what he says. That he is God-with-us. That he’s not only near and present but caring and good. That he is ever working his restoration, love and right-ness in the world, in all our crooks and crannies. That he calls us to join in that work of his wide-open and spacious kingdom.
And in all that Christmas is, it is certainly the mark of hope realized, of God-with-us. So, even as I desperately long for the days when his people will live large in his kingdom, I will rejoice because he is come. I will sing, O Come God-with-us. And I will sing, Rejoice.
(Image: from the Open Hymnal Project; public domain)