O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.
Advent is about waiting. It’s the weeks leading up to Christmas, when we remember Israel’s longing for the Messiah, the thousands of years before He came. We remember the prophecies, the wondering when the Savior would appear. We remember the darkness that covers parts of the Old Testament, the weeping as Israel languished in captivity and sin.
It’s all too easy to forget about Advent. We like to jump right to Christmas: to the joy, the overwhelming miracle of incarnation. But before Christmas comes Advent: the waiting. Before the magi traveled from their homeland to greet the new King, Israel was driven from their home and scattered throughout the nations. How they must have longed for their Messiah to appear, to save them! Before Gabriel came to Zecharias and to Mary, there were 400 years of the silence of God.
O come, O come.
But Advent is also about hope. Long before Zecharias asked Gabriel for a sign, God gave a sign to King Ahaz: “A virgin will be with child and bear a Son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). Before Joseph had to choose whether to divorce his betrothed, God promised that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpent’s head. Can you imagine Israel, throughout all their wandering, holding to these promises? Even when the nation rejected their God, the remnant holding on to the hope that the Messiah was coming?
God with us. That must have seemed incredible. Even unbelievable. God appeared to Israel as a cloud of glory, sometimes so bright they couldn’t even look. The presence of God was in the holiest place of the temple, and only the high priest could approach, only once a year. How could God be with us?
Maybe they understood. Maybe they didn’t. Yet regardless, it’s perhaps the greatest mystery and miracle of history that God Himself would become fully human. The Creator would take on the being of His creation. “…what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands… and the life was manifested…” (1 John 1:1-2)
O come, O come.
Advent is still about waiting.
This year has been hard. Hard for me and hard for our nation, our world. Almost every time you look at the newspaper, it’s a reminder of how much evil is in this world and how loudly this physical earth still groans. We’ve heard of hurricanes and mass shootings. Scandal and corruption high up in our government. Hundreds of thousands of children killed every year.
Advent is still about hope. The Redeemer came once, and He will come again. And in that day, God’s tabernacle will be among men. (Revelation 21:3-4) God Himself, in all His glory, will be with us. He will wipe away every tear, and there will be no more crying, pain, suffering – they will all have passed away.
God Himself, dwelling with us. Forever and ever.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.