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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Today's Hymn

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes in Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Root of Jesse,
free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save
and give them victory o’er the grace.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (tune: Veni Emmanuel)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal

I have a confession to share with you: these have historically been my less-favorite verses of this my favorite Advent carol. Emphasizing the Old Testament God of cloud and wrath, law given on the mountain, tribal wandering, hell and Satan—I would dare to guess that these are not exactly the attributes of God or theology that most of us choose to dwell on in this Christmas-awaiting season.

But considering the broader context gives these lines new life. The Jesus we celebrate during this season—the gentle baby, the bringer of a new reign of love, the Messiah who proclaimed redemption and forgiveness—was the fulfillment of this Old Testament mountain law. The promises of hundreds of years of prophecy culminate in this infant’s birth and his new ministry. Much like the hymn itself, an ancient tune and text given a new meter and translated into modern language, the older law lays necessary foundation and strength to the Good News of the baby in the manger.

Indeed, it is the power of this older law that gives strength to the new. The promise of “victory o’er the grave” that grants so much comfort would be impossible without the might of Sinai. When we are the ones wandering in the desert, feeling lost in the “depths of hell” on earth, we long for a God of such majesty to save us and to proclaim holy order when so much seems disorderly. Our hope comes from the one who sprung from Jesse’s root, descended from kings to declare new liberation.

Perhaps there’s much to rejoice over here after all.

Come. Come now, Emmanuel. Come with your ancient power and might to bring new law in love, that all may be rescued from the depths of despair to life anew. Amen.

Written by Sarah van der Ploeg, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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