O come, o come, Emmanuel
O come, O come, Emmanuel” is the title of one of our great Advent hymns, which captures the spirit of the season, as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of God’s coming as man – the Incarnation, which we celebrate as Christmas. The hymn writers focus on the idea of divine visitation, as if by conspiracy: Lo, He comes with clouds descending; The Lord will come and not be slow; Hark the glad sound! The Saviour comes; Come and Thou long expected Jesus, among others.
Of course, they were solidly rooted in the divinely inspired prophecies, for the Old Testament had these hopeful words in its penultimate chapter: “Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1, NKJV)
The yearnings expressed in the hymns listed above are so unmistakable: “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. O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer/ our spirits by Thine advent here/ disperse the gloomy clouds of night/ and death’s dark shadows put to flight. 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.” Another writes, “Rise, God, judge Thou the earth in might/ this wicked earth redress…” Still another writes, “hope of all the earth Thou art/ dear desire of every nation/ joy of every longing heart”
Christmas is a celebration of divine visitation. As John records, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God came down, and came close to us. In Christ’s birth, God’s love broke through and crossed the boundaries that sin had created. That is the truth that made the great composer, George Frederic Handel (1685-1759), write that great carol, “Joy to the world, the Lord is [has] come…”. In it he expresses this hope: “No more let sins and sorrows grow/ Nor thorns infest the ground;/ He comes to make His blessings flow/ Far as the curse is found.”
Christ’s birth has changed the human story forever. As we meditate on the prophecies that were fulfilled in the coming of Christ, and reecho the hopes and fears of all the ages, our prayers for revival must take on fresh urgency. The prophet said, “The Lord will come”; the hymn writers prayed, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus;” What then shall we say?
In the travails that assault us daily at every turn – personal battles with sin; the increasing attack on peaceful coexistence and decency, both in the nation and Church, we must recall this prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV) We must pray earnestly against tyranny, lawlessness, and wicked schemes. We must plead with the Lord for a fresh divine visitation of the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) that will bring the love and fragrance of heaven to an increasingly hate-filled world. As we pray, let us reach out in His love, crossing barriers, allowing Him to bring healing to wounds of all descriptions. As we celebrate Christmas and look forward to the New Year 2020, we must look forward even more to a renewal that comes by God’s mighty Spirit. O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom Your captive Church, that lives are in prolonged exile here. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen
The Most Revd Emmanuel Egbunu is the Bishop of Lokoja, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)