A Christmas 2020 meditation

If asked what is my favourite Christmas carol my answer would be “O come, o come, Emmanuel” (lyrics given below).

And it even beats my second favorite carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” which I love because it contains deep theological truth, e.g. “Hail! the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail! the Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings. Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth“. Wonderful as are many popular carols sung over Christmas!

Actually, “O come, o come, Emmanuel”is an Advent hymn and Advent is the season looking forward to the coming (or rather second coming) of the Messiah, Emmanuel, Jesus. Its theology is no less profound than “Hark the Herald Angels”. The very last verse of the Hebrew Bible reads “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and he hath charged me to build him an house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? The Lord his God be with him, and let him go up” 2 Chronicles 36:23. Having come out of Exile, the Jewish people were for a period able to worship YHWH in the Temple until it was destroyed in AD 70, and believing Jews continue to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, even until this day, that had been foretold by many of their prophets.

While the expectation of their coming king in the line of David did not abate, much of the period that followed was hope deferred, interspersed with some bright spots, like the Maccabeen revolt (second century BCE) and with it the celebration of Hanukkah (Festival of Lights). Although 400 years later the Messiah did come in the person of Jesus and in doing so He fulfilled umpteen Old Testament prophecies, including riding as King into Jerusalem on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). But Jewish people mostly rejected Him. Less than a week later, He was ignominiously killed. 2000 years later, Christians await the coming again of the Messiah, just as many Jews today await the first coming and him setting up his glorious kingdom, not as the rejected man of sorrows of Isaiah 53 but as the King of kings and is why Christians can sing “O come, o come, Emmanuel …” but not forgetting “Shall come to thee, O Israel”.

Few would dispute 2020 has been a momentous year, for many the most momentous of their lifetimes thus far. It has been dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic, where the negatives far outweigh the positives, and we are far from out of the woods. As for Brexit, whatever one’s view, the outcome is far from satisfactory. And in America there is a disputed US Presidential election result and whichever way one sees the desired outcome, it will have huge ramifications for the rest of the world. For Christians of the non woke variety, while it is nice to see people caring for the other, the professing church seems inept in providing answers. And we are far from seeing “on earth peace, good will toward men” Luke 2:14, because even if these afore-mentioned concerns were dealt with, there is a plethora of others on the horizon. All of which is a recipe for hopelessness and despair, when feeling there is little we can do.

Yet there is hope this Christmas season, and it has ever been so. “For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” Luke 2:1. Moreover, that babe in Bethlehem’s manger can live in our hearts today. And of course there is my favourite carol and the glorious truths which it refers to …

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.

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.

O come, thou day-spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, thou key of David, come,

And open wide our heavenly home;

Make safe the way that leads on high,

And close the path to misery.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel.

O come, o come, thou lord of might,

Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,

In ancient times did’st give the law,

In cloud, and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel.

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