It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Undoubtedly, our response to the advent season should be one of joy. We should rejoice at the coming of the long promised Messiah. We must rejoice that the Savior of the world will come; the king of all creation will be born of a woman.
As with Israel in the above passage, we sometimes find it hard to rejoice in the midst of all the pain and suffering of the world. How can we rejoice when there is so much darkness? I hope it doesn’t sound like a trite answer, but we praise God during the Advent season because he has sent Light to conquer the darkness. He has sent us our salvation; and not only the salvation for our sins, but the redeemer of the world.
We rejoice because the One who has conquered death has arrived. We rejoice because he who will wipe away all tears is here in the flesh. We rejoice because the time of our exile is at an end and the kingdom has arrived. We rejoice because we know, without a shadow of doubt, that God has not forsaken us.
We rejoice because of Immanuel, God with us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Father, all-powerful God,
your eternal Word took flesh on our earth
when the Virgin Mary placed her life
at the service of your plan.
Lift our minds in watchful hope
to hear the voice which announces his glory
and open our minds to receive the Spirit
who prepares us for his coming.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Stir up thy power, O Lord,
and with great might come among us;
and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,
let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be honor and glory, world without end.
1979 Book of Common Prayer
The Christmas message of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not something you’ll hear at your local evangelical mega-church, but definitely something worth reading. For my money, here are the key portions:
God chose to show himself to us in a complete human life, telling us that every stage in human existence, from conception to maturity and even death, was in principle capable of telling us something about God. Although what we learn from Jesus Christ and what his life makes possible is unique, that life still means that we look differently at every other life.
Hence the reverence which as Christians we ought to show to human beings in every condition, at every stage of existence. This is why we cannot regard unborn children as less than members of the human family, why those with disabilities or deprivations have no less claim upon us than anyone else, why we try to makes loving sense of human life even when it is near its end and we can hardly see any signs left of freedom or thought.
‘Though an infant now we view him, He shall fill his Father’s throne’ says the Christmas hymn. If it is true that the child of Bethlehem is the same one who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, how shall we stand before him if we have allowed his image in the children of the world to be abused and defaced?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Those living in exile were waiting for God to speak. Some were in a foreign land, forced to live under alien laws and customs; others were in the promised land, living under the rule of a foreign king. Regardless, all were waiting on God to speak, to act, to intervene on his people’s behalf.
Many waited for God to return the kingdom to Israel so they could defeat the foreign oppressors. They longed for a military victory the likes that had not been seen for centuries. Some took those hopes into their hands and failed miserably.
What few expected was for God to speak in the way he did. He did not speak in military conquest, nor in a renewed kingdom. Instead, God’s intervention in the world consisted of a baby born in the meanest of conditions. God spoke in love, sending his only son, not to conquer, but to die.
In doing the unexpected, what most did not want him to do, God did in fact conquer. He didn’t carve out a piece of land for his people to live, instead he changed the entire order of things. The king in Rome was deposed on Christmas day, but never felt the losing blow. The prince of this world was cast down without a fight. Death was put away, never to harrass us again.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Advent is a time for joy, but it may not be like you think. Traditionally, we think of the run-up to Christmas as a time of joy because we’re giving and receiving presents, we’re singing nice songs, and we have a lot of parties. We may not know why, but to paraphrase Frosty the Snowman, we just love this Christmassy time of year.
In a religious sense, we have joy during this time because we know what we’re celebrating. We know the Christ was born, we know how he lived, and most importantly we know how it all turned out. We know this baby we’re celebrating brought the kingdom in on his shoulders and has brought an end to the enemy.
But Israel didn’t know that. They knew they were doubly ruled by foreign powers and had no expectations of being saved. They had little idea that a boy born under odd circumstances in the middle of nowhere would do any of the things he did. They saw darkness and could not see the light. And yet they were still to rejoice, even before the Messiah. They were to rejoice, in the middle of the night with no light.
This is the true definition of rejoicing. To do it before the end is clear, while all still seems lost, knowing that God has promised deliverance. To cry in the darkness that God is the rock of our salvation. As the song says, Emmanuel shall come, so rejoice.
Savior of the nations, come;
virgin’s Son, here make thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.
Not by human flesh and blood;
by the Spirit of our God
was the Word of God made flesh,
woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.
Wondrous birth! O wondrous child
of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
still to be in heaven enthroned.
From the Father forth he came
and returneth to the same,
captive leading death and hell
high the song of triumph swell!
Thou, the Father’s only Son,
hast over sin the victory won.
boundless shall thy kingdom be;
when shall we its glories see?
Brightly doth thy manger shine,
glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin overcloud this light;
ever be our faith thus bright.
Praise to God the Father sing,
praise to God the Son, our King,
praise to God the Spirit be
ever and eternally.
Words: Ambrose of Milan, circa 397;
paraphrased by Martin Luther, 1523;
trans. William Morton Reynolds, 1851.