O come, O Come Emmanuel

December 23, 2021, 3:36 pm
Jonathan Shierman


There are countless Christmas carols that have echoed through the ages.

We sing them every year and are filled with hope, love, joy, and peace as we marvel at the beautiful reality of Christ born to us again.

If we pay attention, we begin to realize just how powerful and wonderful some of the carols can be.
Just how wonderful the world that they invite us into is.

Perhaps there is no carol where this is truer than that all-time great, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

The final stanza is prescient: “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.”

What a powerful and wonderful future these three lines invite us into. And yet, when we look around, it seems the opposite.

Every day seems to bring more division and quarrelling. Income inequality has grown and been further exposed at home and abroad as families deal with the economic fallout of the last two years.

Statisticians tell us that domestic violence and violent crimes are increasing.

We’ve been through a lot this year. And the difficulties and challenges —and our individual and collective responses—have exposed deep division.

Whatever our motivations and however pure our intent, there is no denying how divisive and sometimes vitriolic this year has been.

The hurt has been felt far and wide. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who hasn’t been on both sides of this hurt.

Can we then, in all honesty, stand and sing about making all people of one mind?

Can we in good conscience bid envy, strife and quarreling cease? How can we talk of peace when disunity is our default state?

And—perhaps seemingly most out of reach—how can we even consider rejoicing after the year that has been 2021?

The answer of course lies in these same three lines of this great hymn.

We need not rely on our own strength.

We need only look to the desire of nations.

We need only look to a Babe laying in a manger.

The word Emmanuel actually means “God with us”.

Even for those of us familiar with this meaning, we tend overlook just how significant it is.

Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth. But it is also the acknowledgement that God is with us. Even in the midst of the difficult season we are faced with.

It is the recognition of God breaking through all our human created barriers. It is strength and power and might surprisingly be found in a newborn baby. Christmas is hope, peace, love, and joy.

It is about the graceful presence of God, even in the midst of real-life sin and struggle.

That is the meaning of Emmanuel.

God, with all of His power and love and mercy, is with us.

When asked to define 2021 in one word, a friend of mine used the word “dark.” I concur.

But we know that light always drives out darkness.

That is what Christmas is all about.

It is the coming of light in a world of darkness.

It is God breaking through all of the barriers that we have erected. Christmas is the light of Christ spreading into the hearts of the faithful, and being carried out into the world.

It is not about “happily ever after.” It is about the presence of God in the midst of real life.

It is a reminder that right here in the world is a promise that God is with us.

Right here in the midst of the virus is hope. Right here with the struggle and upheaval is peace. Right here in the gathering of people and the mending of relationships is joy. Right here with our fellow humans, hurting, sinning, and failing, is love.

Could there be anything we are more in need of than Emmanuel? Could there be any better antidote to the envy, strife and quarreling than God with us? I think not.

O come, o come Emmanuel indeed.

This editorial was written by Pastor Jonathan Shierman of Moosomin Baptist Church.