Monday, December 23, 2013

O Emmanuel... come

[This post is seventh in a series of Advent meditations, exploring the "O Antiphon" for each day as we walk the final steps toward the celebration of the incarnation on the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.]

God's presence among us,
our King, our Judge:
save us, Lord our God!

Lonely Israel, grieving and mourning all alone in exile—this is one of the most important images in the Hebrew Bible. It is captured by the grief of Psalm 137, where the exiles cry out,
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
    when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
    on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth: *
   "Sing us one of the songs of Zion."
4 How shall we sing the LORD'S song *
    upon an alien soil?
"O Emmanuel"
Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ
When the people finally returned home, the land was not as they had remembered it. They had to undergo the hard work of rebuilding and they fell into fighting and arguing. They were conquered by empire after empire, over and over again, until those stories about the proud independent state of Israel seemed just an illusion, a bed-time story that couldn't be true any more.

How much they longed for Emmanuel to come, to set them free and give them all they hoped for in this life.

How hard it was to realize that when Emmanuel came, he had other plans.

We tend to think that Emmanuel "God with us" will actually mean, God just like us. However, when Emmanuel came, when God came to be with God's people, a very different freedom was offered than the one they wanted. The freedom Emmanuel offered was so radically different that many people turned it down, choosing instead to persist in an exile of their own creation.

Because so often the freedom you and I want is just enslavement to a different master, one that looks more appealing. Indeed, the freedom for which Emmanuel is coming to ransom us is enslavement to a different master—but it is to one who loves us.

Do you, exile of God, want to be a slave?

You will have to love boldly. You will have to put your own preferences below those of others. You will have to forgive without counting the costs. You will have to ask yourself every day whether what you possess is just—and what God is calling you to give away so that you can find a truer freedom than slavery to wealth.

You will have to die.

But when you are reborn, when the shackels of sin and selfishness fall of your limbs and the Spirit traces the cross on your soul, marking you as Christ's own for ever... you will be reborn as a slave to God, a servant of Christ, a servant of all.

This ransom for which you and I have longed, I have a feeling it is not the freedom we thought it would be. I have a feeling it will be tempting to sentimentalize it, cover it with garland and tinsel, and then put it in a box on December 26.

But look carefully, because God-with-us approaches...

And I wonder, beloved of God, do you have the courage to be a slave to this love?

O come, o come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

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