This holiday season has so far been the reflective, melancholy, pensive type for me.  I think this is mostly because of all the changes I am facing, knowing that this is my last Christmas with my family for quite a while and that this time next year, I will be in a different country with different people and different food and different ways of doing things.  The uncertainty of the future makes me pay more attention to the present, storing up memories in case the next 2 years are flat-out rotten.

I have also been thinking a lot about traditions and how they communicate meaning and weight, and how some variations of American Christianity seem lacking in meaningful traditions.  My religious upbringing, for example, made no mention of Advent, but I find the idea of a month (give or take) of spiritual preparation for Christmas to be intriguing.  Advent: the Coming.  The celebration of the incarnation: God becoming human – one of us – showing up in our midst.  Emmanuel: God with us, a profound mystery.

A song popped into my head shortly before Thanksgiving and I have found myself humming it ever since: a brooding yet hopeful song that I have always liked.  Christmas music seems to have much more lyrical weight than typical church fare (Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity!, or Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing) and this one is no exception:

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

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from satan’s tyranny
from depths of hell Thy people save
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, o Israel

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by Thine advent here
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, o Israel

O come, Desire of nations, bind
Thy people in one heart and mind
bid Thou our quarrels and sorrows cease
and be Thyself our King of peace

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, o Israel

It is fitting, I think, for this song to sound so melancholy while it speaks so decidedly of hope, because hope is rooted in sorrow.  And what would it look like for God to show up in the middle of our sorrow?  From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave…death’s dark shadows put to flight.  Hell, the grave, and death don’t just happen in the afterlife; they are here and now too, in marriages, families, friendships, jobs, money problems, self-loathing, fear – these things that cause us to die small deaths, day after day.  And these are the places that we invite Jesus into, should we choose it – into the broken parts, into the mess, into our lonely exile, into our mourning, into the pieces of ourselves we keep shrouded in darkness.  And when we invite Him to come, we are joined by the Man of Sorrows – once a tiny, fragile baby, who came into the world just like the rest of us – who mourns with us but leads us out, making what was broken into something beautiful, slowly moving aside the ugliness to see the glory of God.

Come, Jesus.  Come to our brokenness, our dirtiness, our injuries, our darkness, our death.  Come to our anger, our fear, our worry, our pride, our insecurity, our uncertainty.  Come join us, be with us.  You can heal – You will heal – but it is enough if You just come.

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