Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tree Trimming #15: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

"Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?'  For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
Ecclesiastes 7:10

Okay, so it is clear that when it comes to me asking about older songs, I'm not wise at all.

Honestly, one of the saddest things about my love of Christmas carols is the discovery of how far (generally speaking) the church has fallen from heavy, scripture-saturated, lyrical content in music.  Most of the Christmas hymns that I like fall in this category.  But I think there's an argument to be made that O Come, O Come, Emmanuel might rank #1 in this category.  I'll offer brief commentary on my favorite verses from the song:

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 think that there's a double-entendre here.  There's a historical re-telling of Israel's bondage in Babylon where it was hard to sing the songs of Zion.  But after returning to the land, the Son of God appeared.  At the same time, there's a very rich sense where "the Israel of God", both Gentile and Jewish sons of Abraham according to faith in Christ are held in exile.  1st Peter 2:11-12 declare believers are merely "pilgrims passing through".  As aliens and strangers to this world system, we too cry out "O Come O Come Emmanuel"!  Advent goes both ways.

O Come Thou Rod of Jesse Free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of hell thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall Come to thee O Israel

Isaiah 11:1-2 tells us the shocking news that though Jesse's tree became a mere stump, a rod or shoot would come jutting out of it.  Beyond that, a branch from it's roots would come forth and bear fruit.  Jesus is that shoot since the Davidic line of kings was virtually destroyed by Babylonians, and then trampled upon further by Greeks and Romans.  And yet, from a descendant of Jesse (the father of King David) Jesus stands out as a very different kind of king.  His ultimate victory isn't over Philistines or Amorites, but over hell and death itself.

O Come Adonai, Lord of Might
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
Didst give to thy people the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall Come to thee O Israel.

It is hard to say for sure, but I wonder if the author of this carol is saying that the giver of the law itself is the pre-incarnate Christ?  I wonder.  The imagery of this stanza brings to mind Hebrews 12:18-24 where the contrast is made between the "shock and awe" of Mt. Sinai and the joyous celebration in Mt. Zion.  For indeed the law was given with numerous warnings and in such a way that the people would have fled if not for terror that God would overtake and deal with them even  more severely.

But the coming of Emmanuel is enhanced because of how the law shakes us at our core.  We are aware of our horrible standing before the tribunal of God's holiness.  As Sinai shook under the presence of God, so our souls are naked and ashamed due to the awful weight of sin's folly.  Therefore, when the Spirit makes the sweetness of God's grace towards us in Christ evident to us, we rejoice at the coming of Emmanuel.  God with us is not a terror, but makes us merry.  We are clothed in Christ's garments and not our feeble fig leaves.  He brings security in peace and not enmity.  We are invited to the most lavish meal where Christ drinks from the fruit of the vine anew in His Father's kingdom.  And His banner over us is love.

Even if the former days are better than these days, it is for certain that the future days are better than them all.  O Come O Come Emmanuel!

No comments:

Post a Comment