Honestly, I didn’t really remember much about the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel until the other day when it came on in the car with my uncle and he declared it be a second-tier Christmas song. I agreed with him, after all, it wasn’t exactly one of my favorite hymns to sing in church, I mean it’s not Joy to the World or Angels We Have Heard On High, the classics all good Christmas services sing. However, I found myself inexplicably drawn to listening to the song the other day when driving.
I was surprised, once I listened to the lyrics, how much I resonated with the song, especially considering the books of the Bible I am currently reading. Towards, the end of each year as I finish up my Bible reading plan, I end with some of the heaviest parts of the Bible at what the world declares to be the happiest time of the year.
I just finished up Revelation, and because I didn’t exactly read my Bible every day like I am supposed to, I am a little further behind in my Old Testament reading. That is why during December I find myself camped out in books like Job, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Micah. You know the real joy-filled books.
As I was listening to Lauren Daigle’s voice fill my car, I intently listened to the main chorus of the song. Which is “rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel will come to thee oh Israel.” In my head, I know what the gist of what the song is about. It is about the Israelites rejoicing, though they are in hardship and captive right now, knowing that one day the Messiah that Isaiah and the other prophets prophesied about will come and they will be saved.
However, this is probably the first year that the story of the Israelites throughout the entirety of the Old Testament really stuck with me. You know beyond the ways that our Sunday school classes make fun of the Israelites for being so foolish and pastors get extra laugh points for bringing them down in a sermon. I mean, who doesn’t love a good golden calf joke?
With the help of my trusty Biblical commentary, I was able to understand better the words of the minor prophets and the major prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. I was able to understand the true horror that the Israelites would have experienced when they were forcefully removed from their homes and taken captive to Babylon. How much fear they would have had, how they wouldn’t have understood what was happening, how they were thinking to themselves they would never be able to go home.
And yes, I am not defending the Israelites for not making their bed and lying in it so to speak, but my heart is just as idolatrous and sinful as theirs and I have not been uprooted to another country. To put it in perspective when King Nebuchadnezzar came and forced the people of Israel to exile in Babylon, besides a small subset of poor people he left to work the land( Jeremiah was included in this group), he moved an entire people group 1678.2 miles from their home.
Yep, that is right Jersaulem was 1678.2 miles from Babylon. And there were no Ubers to get them there y’all, the Israelites had to literally walk away from their home and know they probably weren’t ever going to see it again.
Now, what does this exile have to do with this Christmas song? I believe it relates because for all the crap that churches and pastors give the Israelites there is one thing that they have that should be commended, and that is their hope. We see this in the minor and major prophets who while prophesying Israel’s demise also prophesy God’s ultimate redemption of His people. We see this in Nehemiah when he literally rebuilds the temple from scratch once returning from exile. We see this in the hope and faith of a people group that didn’t hear from God for 400 years after the book of Malachi.
I think this is important to note because we all face our time in Babylon in the modern world today. For you that might look like losing a job, or a relationship, or not being able to pay your bills. It might be a strained family relationship, crippling loneliness, or not being able to accomplish a dream. You might find yourself in Babylon for a year or so, or for many years at a time. But the point I want to make today is that there is hope in Babylon. There was hope for the Israelites who God literally turned His back on, and there is hope from you. Because no matter how much we mess up, God never abandons those that He loves.
As I have gotten older, I have found that life is less all bad or all good at one period of time but rather a mix. I feel that on most given days I could list out a whole series of things that are good or I am excited about, but in the same token list hard things, I am learning or going through. I once heard on a podcast that our lives are not filled with hills and valleys, but our lives are more like two train tracks running beside one another. One of the train tracks is all the good in life and the other is bad. They run side by side as we make our way through life because there is always some beauty in hardship and always some hardship in beauty.
But, as many of you know, we do experience seasons where we really feel that we are in the thick of Babylon. That we have been banished or punished by God and He is not going to save us.
So if that is how you are feeling going into this New Year or looking back at the year you had and thinking that it wasn’t worthwhile, remember the Israelites. Remember that we too can hold tight to the same promise that Emmanuel is coming again for us soon. Even the book of Lamentations, arguably the most depressing book of the Bible ends in hope.
I know it can be easy to look at the world around us and not see hope, not see that God is coming or anywhere to be found. But He is there. In the Christmas songs that we sing, the funny joke our co-worker tells, the falling of fresh snow, the kind card written from someone we love. He is there in our mundane and in our smallest moments of suffering, as well as in our largest.
I hope that as you look towards 2020, you remember the song O Come O Come Emmanuel, and realize that God is going to set us all free of our sin someday and we will be captives no longer.
Here is the link to the O Come O Come Emmanuel lyrics!