Monday, December 23

O Come, O Come Emmanuel [9th century Latin]

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

This verse of the ancient hymn is, to my mind, the most poignant.  When I was in seminary in the late 1980s there was a book which was widely read and discussed.  Written by a theologian who would later go on to become a Methodist Bishop and an ethicist who was also well known, the book was entitled Resident Aliens and was an argument that people of faith were going to become increasingly isolated in the closing decades of the 20th century and first decades of the 21st century.  We would feel like we were living in a foreign place and that we would come to feel more deeply than before that our citizenship in the kingdom of God meant that we were never able to feel "at home" in this world.

I must confess that at the time the book was published I was not very in touch with the sense of being in exile.  Even now, I'm not sure I would use that word.  But the Hymn of the 9th century does use the word.  It yearns for God to come and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.  It is not hard to bring to mind people who must be feeling that separation and isolation:  the poor; the homeless; those trapped in broken relationships; those entangled in the abuse of drugs or alcohol.

We are just two days away from the celebration of the Lord's birth and this verse of the hymn asks us to get in touch not only with our own exile, but also the exile of our neighbors too.  As we make room in our homes for loved ones and as we prepare celebratory meals . . . we are asked to be even more mindful of those for whom such things would be a luxury.  God comes to us in stunning generosity and we are invited to join God is showing a similar generosity to all we encounter.

Daily Collect
Lord you come as a willing ransom for us.  How do we say "thank you" for such a gift?  May we learn from you how to offer ourselves in service to others with a similar generosity of spirit and tenderness of heart, so that our lives become saturated with Christ-like graces and we reflect well upon you who come to give us cause for great rejoicing.  Amen.

Paul Lang