This is the opening verse to the hymn which we have sung each Sunday during the season of Advent:
O come, O come, Emmanuel And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear
In this hymn, we plead with God to be present with us. “Emmanuel” literally means “God with us.” This hymn calls to mind the Babylonian Captivity, the 70 years the people of Israel spent in exile as slaves to their Babylonian masters. It was a desperate and difficult time of waiting, anticipating and hoping for God to appear, for God to act, for God to bring them home.
We have been living in a form of exile since the pandemic began back in March. As a church community, we have been exiled from worship in our Sanctuary since March 15 and have missed out on many of the other events and activities that usually take place as part of our congregational life. As families and individuals, we have been exiled from work, school, family and social gatherings. I dare say the line “That mourns in lonely exile here” resonates with us in new ways as we move through this pandemic.
My hope is that our experience of mourning is filling us with a deeper appreciation and anticipation for God to come among us in new ways. Perhaps our time in exile will lead us to a more profound understanding of what it means to wait, anticipate and hope for the Son of God to appear. Maybe we will experience and celebrate Christmas somewhat differently this year.
I believe one of the most significant and yet most under-appreciated lines from Luke’s Christmas Gospel comes toward the end: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) That first Christmas left much for Mary to ponder. When was the last time you intentionally spent time pondering what Christmas means for you? Maybe this year, with much of the typical Christmas busyness set aside, we will have the time to ponder deeply what God with us might truly mean.
No matter how different, difficult and/or disappointing your celebration of Christmas may be this year, no matter how lost, lonely and/or lifeless you may at times feel, my prayer for you is that you find comfort, reassurance, and yes, even some measure of joy knowing that you are not alone. The God of the universe, who chose to come to us in the form of a child, is with you, within you and all around you. And as Mary pondered the mysterious ways God was working in her life and in her world, may you also ponder the mysterious ways that God is working in your life and in your world.