I couldn’t get the song out of my head. It haunted me as I walked the mountain road this past week—huffing the final incline up our driveway—and while driving to and from a joyful Thanksgiving with family.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Okay, okay, I said. I downloaded the sheet music and recorded myself playing flute for the YouTube video. But it wasn’t so much the plaintive music that haunted me; it was the word.
In Saturday’s New York Times, Anglican priest and author of Liturgy of the Ordinary Tish Harrison Warren wrote an op-ed titled “Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness.”
“To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness.”
Reading these words, I thought, much is not right in the world, in us, in me. I have plenty “not-rightness” and selfishness to mourn. Thus, the plaintive hymn, haunting my steps, my heart, and my mind.
Two years ago, I wrote in a blog: “Yesterday was the first day of Advent, the season of waiting and anticipation. Sometimes with all the hustle and bustle of events jamming our schedules, it’s hard to remember that Christmas is about faith building, a time involving change. Yet among the flurry of those activities are opportunities for us to prepare for what’s coming.”
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
I have many joyful moments, too, reflected in the hymn’s refrain, also repeating in my head and heart.
As Tish Harrison Warren wrote: “We need communal rhythms that make deliberate space for both grief and joy. For me, the old saying rings true: Hunger is the best condiment. Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.”
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The Son of God. Our hope and our salvation.
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I think you have it. Yes, the joys of Christmas are truly wonderful but unless we realize what they fill we miss it, entirely. Thank you.
Yes, this is a beautiful, haunting song. If you haven’t already heard this arrangement by Selah (or even if you have), listen to this blending of the carol with the Israeli national anthem:
Lovely, thank you for sharing the link. -C.D.