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Monday, November 26, 2018

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Advent plus 1)" Pt 1


[If you would like to listen to the sermon, you can go here]


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Pt 1
Isaiah 7.10-17 (Matthew 1.18-25)
O dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart: come and set thy people free, from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee! And as we meditate on the ancient Carol, Veni Emmanuel, fill our hearts and joys with your very self. Amen.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a beautiful carol, sung by hordes of people every year. It’s ancient, we know for certain that the stanzas are at least an 8th century in composition (though there are hints it might be even older), and has long centuries behind it. Originally it had seven verses all beginning with “O” and was called the “O Antiphons”. A portion was sung each night from 16-23 December, one line each night. Then somewhere around the 11th or 12th century, the lines were coddled together into a kind of hymn. The tune we sing these words with surfaced in a breviary for nuns from the 15th Century. But in the middle of the 19th Century, John Mason Neale, after hearing the tune, realized it would fit this hymn better, and the marriage of lyrics and tune has been sealed ever since. One observation that strikes a thoughtful caroler is how this hymn is saturated with Scripture. You could almost say of the carol what used to be said of John Bunyan: wherever you prick it, it bleeds Bible – and glistens Gospel! Therefore, starting today, we will be contemplating the 5 verses we have in our hymnal (#194) one verse a Sunday. We’ll look at some of the background Scriptures, and think on this carol. I’m calling this short series, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – Advent (plus 1)”. Today we look at verse one and the major Scripture behind it: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

King Ahaz was a faithless, gutless, “moderate” of sorts who stood for only one thing—safety and security. In his faithlessness, he is offered by Almighty, loving God, the opportunity to risk faith in God. “Ask a sign from me” says the LORD (7.10). But Ahaz refuses to “to put the LORD to the test” (7.12). Now, I know, Scripture says we’re not to tempt the LORD. But when God himself comes to us and says, ‘Come along Bubba. I’m giving you the opportunity of a life time—test me and let me show you that I AM, and that I AM trustworthy and faithful—no ifs, and, or buts about it!’ Then not to ask shows the faithlessness of our hearts. I once talked with a physicist who claimed to be an agnostic…
The LORD then, in effect, says that Ahaz’s faithless reign will drown the people of God, Judah/Israel in continued poverty and they will be swept off into the dustbin of history – off into mournful exile, longing for rescue: “Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the festival; all her gates are desolate; her priests groan; her virgins have been afflicted, and she herself suffers bitterly” (Lamentations 1.3-4). “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here”! But long after Ahaz is forgotten, the LORD will perform a sign that will leave folk scratching their heads and shocked, a sign that will be good news for some. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7.14). “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here”!
The Gospel according to Matthew takes up Isaiah 7.14 and opens it up for us to see that is was a promise about Jesus (“until the Son of God appear”!), and that he will be born of a virgin. And Matthew goes further and describes how this moment fit into the way God had planned to act toward Israel and the world all along. That this was God’s radical initiative of sheer, absolute love! That this One is Immanuel, God with us! “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” And so God became an embryo, conceived in his humanity in the womb of a faithful virgin Jewess; God gladly and humbly became really and truly human; a despised Israeli, born into poverty, into the blue collar world of calloused manual laborers, under the heavy and ham-fisted domination of the world’s super power of that day, to do what? “and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21). He came to ransom his people from their captivity; to “…bring good news to the poor; …to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified” (Isaiah 61.1-3). “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear”!
God, not mythically, not metaphorically, but mightily comes as the new Adam to establish the new humanity, and by his obedience undoes Adam’s disobedience; by his death triumphs over our death, and by his resurrection makes us by grace what he is by nature: God’s chosen ones, God’s sons! He comes as Israel, God’s Son called out of Egypt, to gather Jews and Gentiles to himself and makes us God’s renewed Israel! “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear”!
And all of God’s people who were looking forward to Emmanuel’s first coming, groaned with deep longing under the crushing effects of their sin “that mourns in lowly exile here”. And all of God’s people who are looking forward to Emmanuel’s final coming, groan with deep longing under the crushing effects of sin – ours and others – and prays earnestly, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear”!
But also, the people of God looked forward to Emmanuel’s first coming, which was rich with promise that a new day would soon dawn. And God’s people are looking forward to Emmanuel’s final coming, rejoice that a new world has already begun to dawn, a new creation has already started arriving (1 John 2.8b; 2 Corinthians 5.17). God is turning death out on its ear and bringing in the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells. What I mean is that God, our great Ransomer, Emmanuel, Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of sin, broken the power of sin, humbled the pride of sin – and will come one day to remove the presence of sin! Thus, though the wages of sin is death, yet the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6.23). “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
And so, lift up your longing voices that may be cracking with sorrow and sadness; lift up your quavering hearts that might be grieving; lift up your eyes that may well have seen evils in your day that just shouldn’t be and will one day no longer be; and sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” / Make this verse your prayer if the pain and disunity in your family comes to an explosive head this season. Make this verse your meditation as you think about what is and yet what should be, and what will one day be, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” / Give this verse back to God with verve and defiant hope if you struggle with addictions, find yourself mourning over your sin, are striving hard through the disappointments to be the husband/wife you know you ought to be, endeavoring through the frustrations over your faults in parenting. Know that our great Ransomer has rescued you from the penalty of sin, broken the power of sin, humbled the pride of sin – and will come one day (Soon, Lord, please!) to remove the presence of sin! “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

And now, as we prepare for the Lord’s Supper, how fitting that we sing this first verse together: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

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