Advent: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

November 24, 2015
Norman Yung

The Advent season is upon us! Some of you may be wondering, “What is Advent?” If you did not grow up in a church that practiced the liturgical year (a.k.a. the Christian calendar; we only observe parts of it at King’s Cross), the idea of the Advent Season may seem a bit foreign. The Advent Season is the first season of the Christian calendar and it begins four Sundays before Christmas.

It is characterized by a sense of joy (because it is the season when we celebrate the birth of Jesus) juxtaposed with a heart of deepdeep longing, hope, and anticipation. If you look closely at the words of the well-known Christmas lament, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” you can almost feel the desperation of Israel as they wait for God:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

The haunting melody that underscores these words of longing are then immediately followed by joyous refrain of hope:

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These two movements of deep longing and hopeful joy are weaved together in this season. But I suppose for many of us, “hopeful joy” is more familiar to our experience than “deep longing”; most of us do not experience life in fear of death and oppression.

When I consider the plight of God’s people and their longing for a Savior expressed in this hymn and in the Psalms, I immediately think about those who are fleeing war-torn Syria in search of safe refuge. Their longing must echo that of the Jewish people in exile awaiting the Messiah who will put all things right. I was reminded this week in conversation that as we identify with the church universal, we identify not merely on doctrine and practice, but we are also to identify in suffering–their pain is our pain as their hope is our hope. If there is anything that echoes the heart of God in the Advent season, it is this: that God himself hears the cries of his people and comes in their midst.

During Advent we remember that when Christ came into this world, he came among refugees, as a refugee–among a people under the heavy yoke of another power. He is not alien to the cries of this bleeding world, nor aloof to its grief, sorrow, and anger, but has come to bring hope to the nations.

In the backdrop of chaos, confusion, and calamity, we live in expectation for the arrival of Christ and can join with God’s people through the ages as they have practiced living in hopeful suspense of the coming King.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

King’s Cross Church is a church of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
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