I grew up in a church where the ancient hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel was the processional for the first Sunday in Advent. The melody thrilled me when I first heard it – it still does: majestic, mysterious, and mournful. Its words puzzled me, though, when I first heard them.
I didn’t know what Emmanuel meant; what Israel or David’s key had to do with the baby Jesus; or, what the rod of Jesse, or what Dayspring meant. Nor,did I get the apparent disconnect between its mournful tune and the command, Rejoice!
How odd to know what words say, but not fully grasp the whole of their definitions.
For instance, Christmas means Christ’s birth . . . but what does the Incarnation of God in the flesh mean? A virgin means one who has not had sexual relations . . . but what does a virgin giving birth to a baby mean?
And what do any of these words mean in the autumn of my life?
Plenty . . . and the last few weeks in autumn, when we begin celebrating Advent, remind me that sooner rather than later is a good time to reexamine myself* and what words mean, and what they mean to me, like the reasons why God had to become a man through a virgin birth.
Who knows? Maybe somebody might ask me what does Christmas mean. How would you answer, if someone asked you why do you celebrate Christmas?
I know why I celebrate Christmas – but I ask God for words that make sense to people in these crazy wonderful scary times in which we live! (and as succinctly as a TWEET!)
“. . . I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you . . .” (Isaiah 43:5-6)
*A Self-Examination From the Liturgy at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, November 29, 2015 — Pithy & Profitable:
Lord Christ, we confess our willingness to be loved but also our reluctance to love.
We confess our readiness to accept Your forgiving love but also our refusal to forgive.
We confess our eagerness to grasp Your offer of redeeming love but also our resistance to follow You without question.
In this Advent time, forgive us our failure to respond as we should.
Even so: come, Lord Jesus. Amen.