Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel

“Christmas has started and I can’t unstart it.”

Those were the words written in my journal on the day after Thanksgiving that particular year.

Have you ever felt that way? Stuck in the chaos of life, everything is hurtling relentlessly toward the next thing and the next. Even if you love Christmas, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. Time marches on brutally and takes us with her, rendering us unable or unwilling to “unstart” the machinery of tradition and culture. And to what end? Darkness starts settling in and with it a certain amount of despair. What to do?

It was in the Dark Ages nearly 1200 years ago when someone felt the sting of the inability to unstart life. A poem stirred in the mind of this person.

A plea.

A longing.

A prayer for a Savior.

This poem literally poured out of a heart of faith and hope. A favorite carol was born in the chaos of the times, dark and desperate.

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

This unnamed author, probably a monk, found a reason for joy in the names of Emmanuel, “God with us.” Do these names stir our hearts also?

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

christmasHasStarted-NAMES.jpg

The tune was translated from the Latin by an Anglican priest named John Mason Neale. He was a brilliant scholar (he knew at least 20 languages) who was marginalized by his church body and pretty much banished to an island off Africa.

Talk about discouragement. But John Neale did not despair.

Instead, he used his time to start an orphanage and rescue prostitutes, sharing the gospel with others who were caught in a life they couldn’t unstart. He taught them to praise in the darkness.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

No need for a despair of any kind. Our "man," Jesus, has appeared to save the day!

After researching the background to this hymn, I find that I no longer feel an emotional reaction to the chaos swirling around my world. Instead, I find relief and joy.

It’s a miracle and a wonder that our God chose to start his human life as a baby, live it perfectly in the chaos of a family, follow through to the cross and burst forth in joy out of the tomb.

It is the best blessing to be called his child and have the privilege of celebrating his birth! When that is the focus, we can rejoice, no matter what. 

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I John 1:4-5

Christmas has started - and by God's grace, we will get through it just fine. He gives strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Thank you, Jesus, that you didn’t unstart Christmas!

Hymn # 23 from Christian Worship & #31 from Lutheran Worship
Author: French Processional

Tune: Veni Emmanuel
1st Published in: 1854 by John Neale