WAYNEPARK.COM

Pastor, Writer, Contemplative

Reflections on “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

I was reflecting on this song in my morning thoughts / prayers / conversations. It’s one of my favorite Christmas hymns, yet what I didn’t realize is that the title and opening refrain is a paradox – a self-contradiction. The name “Emmanuel” or “Immanuel” is not a big mystery; it’s simply three little Hebrew words smushed together: “Im” (with) “Nu” (us) “Eyl” (God). Quite literally, “With Us God” – the God who is with us.

Why then does the song begin with “O Come O Come” if Emmanuel is already with us? It’s as if to say “O Come O Come The-One-Who-Has-Already-Come.” Yet therein precisely is the tension we as Christians feel, in celebrating the tremendous hope that has come into the world and yet at the same time longing for its return. The Advent is not exclusively a celebration of He who came, but also a celebration of He who will come. It is active remembrance, active waiting. Maranatha.

May we be reminded this Advent that Christmas is much more than the sentimentalized mush we are commonly and popularly fed this time of the year; it is a push for the very thing realized in Christ’s birth, a year-round actualizing of the hope that came into the world two thousand years ago. Perfectly embodied in the words of U2’s frontman,

Heaven on Earth, we need it now
I’m sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing again and again
That there’s gonna be peace on Earth

Where I grew up there weren’t many trees
Where there was we’d tear them down
And use them on our enemies
They say that what you mock
Will surely overtake you
And you become a monster
So the monster will not break you

And it’s already gone too far
Who said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt?

Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
Tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
No whos or whys
No one cries like a mother cries
For peace on Earth
She never got to say goodbye
To see the color in his eyes
Now he’s in the dirt
Peace on Earth

They’re reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won’t get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth and Ann and Breda
Their lives are bigger than any big idea

Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line
Peace on Earth
To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth
Jesus sing a song you wrote
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won’t rhyme
So what’s it worth
This peace on Earth

Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth
Peace on Earth

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