The music of Christmas is one of my favorite parts of the season. I listen to Christmas music in all kinds of styles—jazz, piano, harp, bluegrass, big band, classical. I like everything from “A Music Box Christmas” to “White Christmas” with Martina McBride to Kelly Clarkson’s “Wrapped in Red.”
While driving to work recently, I found myself absorbed in the old hymn, “O Come, O Come Immanuel.” For some reason I thought, These are words that people need to hear today.
At a time of economic uncertainty and rising religious tension—and a time when many marriages and families are feeling the impact of these events—the words of this song speak of hope and joy:
O come, O come Immanuel
and ransom captive Israel
who mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel
I’ve been thinking about the phrase, “… and ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here …” When Jesus was born, God’s people literally lived in captivity—they were ruled by the Romans, and they were hoping for a Savior to free them. They wanted relief from their physical suffering.
And yet their captivity and exile was spiritual as well, for they had gone 400 years without hearing from God through prophets or through inspired Scripture. They were not experiencing the blessings of God’s guidance, provision, and presence.
So I find it interesting that, when Immanuel (which means “God with us”) finally did appear, He came as a baby born in lowly circumstances to a poor family. Jesus lived His entire life under the rule of an ungodly and despotic foreign power. And during His public ministry He focused on setting the people of Israel free from spiritual exile rather than physical captivity.
The real problem
We are like Israel, in that we think our biggest problems are in the physical realm. On a big level, we want relief from economic hardship and terrorism. In our daily lives, we want relief from conflict with a spouse … from problems in raising children … from relational difficulties with parents or siblings or cousins … from an oppressive employer, or a hostile co-worker.
Yet our biggest problems are actually spiritual in nature. In a sense, we all mourn “in lonely exile” when we are not connected to God, when He is not “with us.”
Jesus did not come to liberate us from suffering, but to free our spirits as we go through the suffering that is part of life. He makes it possible for us to connect with God—to know Him personally. For those who have received Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit lives within them to guide, comfort, and strengthen them, no matter what their circumstances.
Think of the people you know who have experienced trials and suffering over the last year. People who have lost loved ones, or felt betrayed by a spouse or someone they trusted, or experienced significant sickness or injury. Think of the suffering or heartache you’ve faced.
Aren’t you glad you have a Savior who experienced the same hardships, and suffered so that we could know God?
That’s why we should rejoice at Christmas time. It reminds us of Immanuel, the God who is with us. “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”
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