Mourning in lonely exile. Such was the description of the Israelites, for a time exiled in Babylon, who awaited the day the Messiah would come.
The advent carol “O, Come, O Come Emmanuel” features minor chords and a contemplative tempo. It describes the human condition well.
These same adjectives described Naomi and perhaps also Ruth in the opening chapters of the book of Ruth. These women had both lost their husbands, and Naomi her two sons. They were lonely. They were mourning. And Naomi, at any rate, was in a foreign country, far from home and extended family.
Realizing how our own lives often parallel that of Naomi and Ruth, we sing this mournful song in hopes that Christmas will somehow dispel the gloom. The confident refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel, reminds us that when God chooses to come to us, there will be rejoicing. Even in our loneliest, most sorrowful moments, the idea of God With Us, or Emmanuel, is more than comforting.
When we have God with us, we have the creator and redeemer of the world living right with us. Thank you, Lord for the gift of your presence with us. There is no greater gift.
And as Christmas Day 2014 fades into memory, we look ahead to how we might model emmanuel for others. How can our presence be the personal touch that someone else needs? And who can we share time with? When we give our time, our presence to hurting people, we share God’s love and presence as well.
Originally published December 18, 2011.
When I was young, the sounds of Christmas came from our hi-fi stereo as we played Firestone Christmas Albums non-stop. I can still hear the clear voice of Julie Andrews singing my favorite Christmas hymns and carols. Her lovely accent made Hark! The Herald Angels Sing unique. I memorized all the verses to most of these hymns just from hearing Julie sing them over and over.
Today’s declaration of the Apostle’s Creed is the beloved Christmas event. It is the incarnation of God in the flesh. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. Tennent points us first of all to Charles Wesley’s beautifully poetic and theologically rich hymn lyrics.
Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the God-head see! Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!
The fact that God wanted to come to earth and be with us in the flesh is truly awesome. The way he chose to accomplish this is more stunning still.
When the apostle Paul thought about it, he wrote this: “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, But emptied Himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself…” Philippians 2:5-8.
Tennent gives a wonderful illustration as he summarizes Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper. The book is about the son of King Henry VIII who met a ragged beggar and noticed they were quite similar in appearance except for the clothes. They traded places and changed clothes. The heir to the throne then walked the streets unrecognized, ill-treated, pushed aside, and ignored. In the same way, Tennent says, “The eternal Son of God clothed himself in our humanity and walked among us and most did not recognize Him.” John 1:10 says, He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.
Mary is the only person of faith mentioned in this creed. Her simple obedience to the will of God is exemplary. That God would entrust himself to be born and raised by one of us in this way is a sign of his great love. And it is more than that: He shows that he wants to accomplish his work of redemption in cooperation with us, His people, ordinary people.
Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. His conception was from God, by God, by the Holy Spirit, but within the human womb of Mary. And he was born as we all are. In order to become the perfect sinless sacrifice God intended, he had to be fully divine, free of the inherited sin of Adam. In order to be truly our Emmanuel, to sympathize with our weaknesses, he had to be fully human. He was both. It is a mystery. A paradox. The incarnation is a divine event worthy of our worship and praise.
Luke 1:26-38 describes the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It is from this scripture that the apostles took the words of this affirmation. Nothing in the creed is carelessly tossed in.
It is never to early to prepare for Christmas. Allow God in Christ to use you in His work. Be His humble servant as Mary was. Embrace the mystery. Glory to the newborn King.