My dear sister and brother-in-law gave me free tickets to a Christmas concert this past week, and something interesting happened. As I listened to the words of some familiar songs — I started crying — not through the entire concert, but when touched by a particular phrase being sung.
I realized the power of the message in Christmas hymns, so have chosen to reflect this month on several of the well-known hymns we sing. Christmas hymns are a staple of life for most Americans, though we seem to know the words of Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer better than the songs which reflect on the true meaning of this holiday.
The song is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,* and it is in the fourth verse that I stop to reflect:
O come, Desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind; Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease; Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Jesus Christ is Emmanuel — God with us, but when I ask myself today is he truly the Desire of nations? A quick look at the news reveals that most nations must know little of him, as envy, strife and quarrels abound, my nation not excluded.
This leads me to think about what nations do desire, and knowing many refugee and immigrant friends, I know that most desire peace and a better life for their children. Unfortunately, they’re looking for it in just another nation, not in Emmanuel, and many times fall prey to the sins of the country in which they seek refuge.
It doesn’t have to end that way, though, as I know many who, while living in a strange and foreign land, have come to know Emmanuel. Once having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, they reject the false promises of the “good life” on the other side of the fence. They now know the One who can bring an end to envy, strife and quarrels.
So, this hymn now becomes a prayer, and I trust it will become yours as well:
O dear Emmanuel, may the nations truly find all their desires fulfilled in you and you alone. Come upon our nation, all the nations of this world, and move in the hearts of people, drawing them to yourself, that envy, strife and quarrels will cease, and peace, true peace, will be known. I do rejoice in you, Emmanuel, so thankful for all who will be ransomed by you in the year ahead. In the precious name of Jesus, God with us, I pray. Amen.
*WORDS: Latin Hymn, tr. st. 1, 2, John Mason Neale, 1818-1866; st. 3,4, Henry Sloan Coffin, 1877-1954. MUSIC: Plainsong; adapt. Thomas Helmore, 1811-1890.
*O Come, O Come, Emmanuel sung by Zack Vinson. http://www.zachvinson.com/2014/12/free-christmas-download-o-come-o-come-emmanuel/