Christmas music is the best music. Period. Done and done. With its merry music and cheerful chimes, I play it year round, shamelessly overshadowing Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even yes, Flag Day. My hope this advent is to spend time reflecting on a few of the Christmas songs we will be hearing so often this Christmas season that we forget the joy and hope of the words they bring. So many of these songs tell great stories of one of the most unprecedented events in the history of the world. The event where our Creator God, whom we long desire, would become part of his own creation so that we may find him! I pray this will be a fruitful journey.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel is far and away my favorite song of the Christmas season. I feel this song is the most transcendent of all songs we regulate to a short five-week playlist. What other song more beautifully articulates the daily friction between the present suffering and anguish of so many of us while in the same breath calling out the present hope of the promised coming of our Lord?! Let’s remember the backdrop for the first Christmas, when Jesus was born. Israel was an occupied people who hadn’t heard from their God in nearly 400 years. All tangible reason for hope was surely lost, leaving this small nation little to hold on to but its steadfast belief in the promise of God passed down to them from their fathers and mothers. We see all this hauntingly and poetically portrayed in the first verse & then the chorus of the song.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel…” We begin singing with a desperate plea. You can almost hear the tears behind the first refrain. After years, generations, even centuries of feeling a silent absence of the God of your forefathers and presently living as an occupied people, mourning in exile. There is no longer time to politely wait. “We have done wrong, we are being held captive by the tyranny of sin, oppression, and the nations who occupy us. Be our ransom! Come, God With Us!”
“Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel!”I had always figured this to be a cheerful chorus to a Christmas song talking about baby Jesus in a manger. Yet this refrain is a bold and courageously defiant proclamation of hope! In spite of circumstance, feeling, oppression, and death, we WILL rejoice because “God with Us” is making his way!
A lot of times we find ourselves in a dark world, filled with violence, manipulation, deceit, slavery, and betrayal. Regardless of our belief systems, religion, or nationality, perception or reality, we can at times, or in totality, feel like an oppressed people drowning in a divine absence of tangible hope. We are left wondering, will our Savior, our King, our Lord ever come to ransom us, to fill us with hope, to restore us? We shout, “O COME, O COME, YOU WHO CALL YOURSELF GOD WITH US!”
Then, and only then, once the noise, fear, anger, and worry of our heart has been vacated through our authentically raw confession are we able to remember the whispered promise. The promise from our covenantal God that he has indeed come as Christ our Lord and given us victory over the grave! To which we sing in individual and corporate defiance to the darkness of our feelings and the world around us, the refrain, “REJOICE, REJOICE! God with us shall come!” This is a song of anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope. This is a Christmas song warranting faithful, joyful, and hopeful voice by all people seeking the presence of God at all times of the year. May this carol build within us the anticipation, expectation, and defiant hope, which begins to find its culmination in a babe born in a stable.
Let’s Talk! What are the things you most anticipate during the Christmas season What do you do with all that anticipation?Whose version of this song is your all-time favorite?