By Ann Chen
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Recently, somebody asked me why, and I honestly answered that I didn’t know why except that I’m drawn to its soulful sound and that I hadn’t really processed what the words meant.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
I took it upon myself to reflect more deeply about the lyrics of this song.
As I thought through the words, I began thinking about the Israelite people – lost, trapped, broken, weary, hopeless. 400 years they had waited already for this King who was supposed to rule and reign, but instead, they saw and heard nothing. Why were they going through this suffering? Would they ever be free? Would they find their home that was promised them? Would God see their struggles?
Of course, we have the privilege of knowing that the answers to all those questions are yes, and Jesus comes to save! The Advent season and our Christmas celebrations are acknowledging that the Son of God has come, and will do exactly as He said that He would. Because of that, this song exhorts the Israelites to “Rejoice! Rejoice!” even in the midst of their suffering, because God was indeed coming.
I’ve had many amazing fulfilled promises this year and for those, I truly rejoice, but I’ve also felt the pain of waiting on a God who I feel like has still yet to pull through. There are still areas in my life that leave me to feel much like the Israelites, and I see it so much in others around me as well. Chronic illness, financial burdens, relational brokenness, unfulfilled desires lead to thoughts much like the Israelites. You said you would come, but where are you?
This time of year reminds me that God is the God of both the waiting and the fulfillment, and for both, we are called to rejoice. Jesus perhaps didn’t come in the time that he was expected, but he did indeed come, and there is a call to those who feel like they are in waiting to rejoice, because the Son of God is still coming. This song is that beautiful reminder. I think I have a new reason for this song to be my favorite Christmas song.
Ann Chen was recently serving in Malawi, working to see a discipleship making movement raise up amongst the Yao. She is an International Staff member with Epicentre Church and has a degree in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary.