O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear...
It’s a familiar Christmas carol. We sing it every year during the hap-happiest season of all, and yet the lyrics are more sobering than we sometimes realize as we carol around with cookies and cocoa. The song begins with an Israel in captivity, mourning and lonely, waiting, waiting for God to arrive and to set them free.
It is a familiar feeling for most of us, even if we don’t always associate it with Christmas. We’ve all experienced a season in life, as the Israelites did, when things didn’t go as we’d planned, when dreams didn’t get realized, when life didn’t meet up to our expectations of it, when the wounds of the fall became our wounds. Maybe for you, that season is right now.
And it’s in those moments when tragedy strikes, when insecurity hits, when the fear and pain and shame of the world creep into our midst and take over like haze, that so many of us have wrestled with one question.
Why do things like this happen? Why is the world this way? Why is there suffering or captivity? Why hasn’t God fixed this yet?
And if you’ve ever asked it, you’re far from the first. In the Old Testament, when Job lost his home and family and health, he cried out in agony and interrogated God. Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane and finally on the cross, “My God, my God, why? Why have you forsaken me?”
It’s not always a comfortable question to ask, is it? Because there aren’t any easy explanations. There are no formulas in the Bible, no fail-proof arguments, though people have been looking for one for millennia.
We want an easy answer. We want something to explain it, something to fix it, something to give our pain meaning. But we’ve always needed something bigger than the simple word or explanation we’ve imagined we’d get. So God comes down in the person of Jesus and gives us himself.
A few years ago, a 5-year-old boy went to the White House to meet President Obama. He was told he could ask the President a question, any question he wanted. So, he looked up at the President and asked so quietly he needed to repeat it twice:
“Is your hair the same as mine?”
In so many words, the little boy was asking, “Are you like me?...Could I be like you?” And without saying a word, President Obama stooped down so the little boy could touch his head, so he could see the hair for himself.
This is what God does for us. The same God who was with us in the Garden, with us in Egypt and Exile, stoops down to be with us in the flesh, divinity swaddled in skin and bone, wearing a face we could look at and live, with a body we could embrace, with blood that could be shed, the spitting image of super and natural. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
So when we ask our question, “Why?” the answer we get, the answer we need is God with us, because at the center of the Christian story is the God who stooped into the world with hair like ours, a God who lived in poverty and suffered betrayal at the hands of his friends, who was brutally tortured, and unjustly executed...who suffered the pain of the world alongside us.
But in Jesus, the story doesn’t end with our pain or his pain. The story begins and ends with God’s love, which he expressed through the life and death and life again of his son, destroying all the victory that pain had, destroying all the victory that sin had, destroying all the victory that death had.
As we look back at what Jesus has done and around at what he’s doing, and forward at what he’s promised to do, we have hope. In the meantime, we still feel pain. In this world, we still suffer. But the end is no longer in doubt. And even in this world, a world in which we still see and feel profound tragedy, we can know that God is with us, Emmanuel, that God can bring good even out of our pain, and we can cling to the promise that God will finish what he started, that he will wipe every tear from our eyes, that death will be no more, that mourning and crying and pain will be no more, and in the words of Julian of Norwich, then “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”
Emmanuel has come to thee,
Pastor Brynn Harrington
Is there anything you’re struggling with today? How do you need a reminder of God’s very real presence right now?
God, help me to see where you are in my life this moment. Help me to trust that you are present all around me. Give me the confidence that your Holy Spirit resides within me, among me, and in front of me. Let me rest in your arms, mighty Savior. In Jesus’ strong name I pray. Amen.
Put some tissues in your pocket. Enough that you can notice them. Each time you realize that they’re still there, give thanks that Jesus himself will one day wipe away every tear and remember there will come a time when these tissues will no longer be needed. Praise the Lord.
Pastor Aaron Engler
- Mt. 27:46.
- Job 10:4.
- Ex. 33:20.
- Ps. 18:35.
- 1 Cor. 15:55.
- Rev. 21:4.
- Julian of Norwich (14th c.), Showings.
- Scruggs, Scott, "Why Doesn't God Do Anything About Our Suffering?"
- Long, Thomas, What Shall We Say?