For centuries the Christian church has celebrated the season of Advent, which means “coming.” Strategically positioned before Christmas, the season of Advent highlights the waiting, the expectation, the longing—like kiddos antsy to tear open the presents under the tree.
What are we waiting for? The coming or arrival of the world’s Savior, Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” We express this yearning for God’s arrival in the Christmas carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (which is really an Advent song).
The entire song is a prayer, asking God to come and be with us, desiring our Savior to arrive. And the prayer seeks a double answer in both the first coming of Christ (when he was born) and the second coming of Christ (the end of this world) when he will physically reappear “with power and great glory” (Mark 13:26).
Like Joseph and Mary and believers of old, like antsy children, we strain to see the prophecies fulfilled, the promised Messiah. We anticipate celebrating his birth at Christmas. “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11).
When Jesus is born, God comes to be with us, salvation dawns and the “Bright Morning Star” shines his light on the world. But it is a world that “mourns in lonely exile here.”
Ancient Israelites, exiled from their own homeland and from worship in the temple, were longing to be delivered as God had promised and return from a foreign country. In the bigger picture, the eagerly expected a Savior—but more than a political deliverer.
Today, even though salvation has already appeared, present day believers long to go home, too. On this earth we are foreigners (1 Peter 2:11), mourning as we endure troubles and temptations, longing to be delivered to our ultimate home in heaven. “Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2).
Do you struggle with this double life of both the now of “God with us” that we celebrate at Christmas, and the not yet of “God with us” again when Jesus returns? That’s okay. That’s good, actually.
The joy of faith is sometimes dim, in repentance, in pain because of suffering or world violence or the loss of death, in the watching and waiting of a promise not yet fulfilled.
And the joy of faith is sometimes exuberant and exultant! In celebration, we see how God’s prophecies and promises always come true. In jolly merry-making believers laugh and play and sing and post smiley emojis because the One who is coming has already come and there are no odds whatsoever about our future. It is absolutely secure!
O come, Emmanuel! God, you are with us now and will be with us again.
PRAYER: O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Come, open wide our heavenly home. From depths of hell your people save, and grant us victory over the grave. O King of Nations, be our King of Peace. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: The song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was based on ancient antiphons each beginning with an exclamation and an Old Testament name of Jesus (Emmanuel, Key of David, Branch of Jesse, etc.). Settle in quietly and meditate deeply as you pray through these words. (OPTION: Print this and ask others in your group or family to read the parts in italics, as a read-response prayer).
O Wisdom, breath of the Most High, permeating all creation and providing order to our confusion and stress:
Come and make us friends of God.
Help us to hear again during this season the precious promises of your coming that we may find joy in the celebration of your birth, confidence as your Word works in our hearts, and hope as we long for you to come again in your glory.
O Lord of lords and Leader of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and save us with outstretched arms.
Give us power every day to battle against Satan, our sinful nature, and the evil around us so that our hearts may find rest in you alone.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a signal to the nations, before whom all kings are small and censored, before whom the nations will all bow in submission:
Come and save us; delay no longer.
Guide those you permit to govern the nations of the world. Lead all of humankind to acknowledge your divine power in this created world that many might seek you and find your love in the gospel.
O Key of David and Ruler of the house of Israel, when you open, no one can close, when you close, no one can open.
Come and proclaim liberty to the captives and set free those in bondage.
Help us witness to family and friends who are struggling under the weight of sin because they do not know your love. Let our words comfort those who are grieving, afraid, confused, and burdened by an accusing conscience.
O radiant Dawn, Splendor of eternal light and Sun of righteousness:
Come and give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death.
Watch over those who are sick in body or mind, heal those who have been injured, relieve the pain of those with terminal illnesses, and give medical personnel and caregivers strength and patience in their ministry of mercy.
O King of the nations, the Ruler they long for, the Cornerstone binding all together:
Come and save the people you created from the dust of the earth.
Bring peace to our troubled world, restore unity in families that have been broken by sin and strife, and lead us to be faithful friends and loving family members.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Anointed of the nations and their Savior:
Come and save us, O Lord, our God.
Help us during the hectic days of this holiday season to keep our hearts focused on you and your love, for you came to live with us that we might live with you forever.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, come.