The season of Advent is a wonderful time in terms of church music and hymnody. The hymns of Advent speak to the expectation and anticipation of God’s long awaited Messiah. We also get a small taste of Christmas as we begin to hear and even sing some of the sweet refrains of Christmas hymns and anthems. Soon the celebration of the Nativity will be upon us, but not quite yet, for it is Advent, the time for preparation and faithful waiting. Just as people of biblical times longed for the Christ to come and restore God’s kingdom, the church awaits our Lord and King Christ Jesus at his second coming.
One Advent hymn in particular is a favorite of mine and its melody and lyrics run through my head nearly every day of December. O Come, O Come Emmanuel holds many memories for me as a child. As I listen and remember, I can still hear choirs and congregations from my youth singing those soothing yet sometimes haunting verses. I can envision children and adults lighting the candles of the Advent wreath as voices lift up the refrain; “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
The promise of God’s Messiah; salvation for God’s people and the restoration of God’s kingdom are all joined together as we await Emmanuel, that is, God with us. That is what the name means, God with us. Indeed God invaded earthly time and space and lived among his people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Through his life of obedience to God’s will, and never ending love for all people, Jesus gave the world a glimpse of the in breaking of God’s kingdom on earth.
Even as he made his way to Jerusalem, where he was greeted as a king, yet was ultimately handed over and crucified, Jesus showed us the totality of God’s love. His victory over sin and the grave is realized by his offering up his own body and blood as the final atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. This victory is affirmed and proclaimed as those who journeyed to the tomb on Easter morning found it to be empty. Angels gave them the good news that God has raised Jesus from the dead.
Through the birth of a small child in a stable, who later grew to be a great prophet and teacher, then ultimately gave his life for the sake of the world, Emmanuel has indeed come to the world. God took upon himself human flesh and became fully human and lived among his people. And now, the Church awaits the day of his triumphant return as Christ ushers in the kingdom of God in its full glory.
As we patiently wait for this day, God calls us to be as living reminders of Emmanuel, God with us. God calls each of us to be as Christ to others, sharing the good news of Christ Jesus, caring for the poor and needy, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger into our midst. As we do these things, we give powerful witness to the promise fulfilled in the person of Christ Jesus, strengthening our faith and the faith of others as we await the fulfillment of Christ promise to come again. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee.