Joel Elliott Mooneyhan
Songs Through Advent: O Come Emmanuel
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
It's easy to forget that Christmastide hasn't started yet. Christmas actually doesn't begin until December 25. Until then, we are in the very beginning of the Christian calendar, in a season called Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word "advents," which means "coming," or "arrival." It is the season of preparation for the arrival of God in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
As a culture, we sort of skip over this season and jump right into our holiday cheer. There's nothing wrong with it, but it does overlook the true significance of what the holiday is and what it means.
For the people we read about in the Nativity stories, nothing is certain: By the time Jesus born, 400 years have past since the last prophet has spoken to Israel. During that time, Israel has been kicked around the world stage and is no long any sort of meaningful power. Firmly under Roman rule, with only nominal autonomy for self-governance, Israel is a shadow of the glory that Yahweh had promised. So long had they wandered and so far had they strayed that Yahweh seemed like a distant memory.
Israel's fate doesn't even hang in the balance, because no one even there has anything to hope for. Yahweh has seemed silent. Israel's enemies have become their lords. It is into this reality that God comes as a helpless baby to save the world.
Hope is always a long shot. And hope always starts in darkness.