O Come, O Come Emmanuel: Christmas Night 1998

My favorite Christmas hymn is one penned in the 9th century by an unknown monk. In the middle of what we call the “Dark Ages” came a haunting song meant to encourage others about the Light. Later, in the 19th century, an Anglican priest, John Mason Neale, found the song, written in Latin, accompanied with a 15th century tune from a French Franciscan convent of nuns serving in Portugal. Neale translated this song into English, and what he penned is what we sing today.

The lyrics of this song are rich. They speak of despair and Hope, of tyranny and Freedom, of loneliness and Presence, and of misery and Majesty. And, so too, our lives reflect the mournful cry of those surrounded by darkness, yet clinging to the Promise of Light.

A Personal Story:

We had been married just over seven years. The vows seem to ring hollow in her ears: “…for better or worse…” Nobody ever believes that “worse” will come into their relationship. But it had. A husband she really didn’t know seemed out of control, desperate, angry and unconcerned about anything else than himself. And it was what she didn’t know that would eventually pierce her heart like a thousand swords. At first she had tried to beg him to be a part of her life, then she nagged, and finally she resigned herself to whatever God would have for her.

He noticed, but he didn’t care. At least not at first. Christians and the Church – just painful memories of hypocritical do-gooders, no-one really cared or had any answers. He lived in a private hell that he had created for himself. Perhaps if he could punish himself enough, it would all get better…somehow, some twisted way. He called out to God, mainly to curse Him and turn around to beg for the lives of his children – he didn’t want them to experience hell: his own, or the one he knew existed. Everything he ingested to dull the pain would only fuel it more. By Christmas Day he was looking at a way out, and he knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

She prayed. A lot. She didn’t have anything else to hold on to but God. Nobody really knew her full story, and if they did – well, they would’ve only stayed farther away. It was hard and lonely. The Church does a pretty poor job of helping people in situations they don’t fully understand. It’s easier to give platitudes and go home to a healthy family than it is to get messy and real. But still she clung to the only One she knew could help. “Whatever it takes…”, sometimes it was all she could do to get those words out of her mouth. And consistently she loved a man that was unlovable.

Christmas night found this guy sitting on his couch in his small little house by the lake. He kept mulling over his options: Suicide, Psychiatric help, or God. “Not much of a choice…”, he muttered for what seemed like the thousandth time. His hands shook as he looked at the gun cabinet to his left, and then his eyes fell on his little boys’ bedroom door. He couldn’t choose that. With his head in his hands he thought through what he knew of mental health help…it was pitifully little. His heart raced as he thought about checking himself in to a center, “…What if they don’t ever let me leave!?” He couldn’t bear that thought. Sitting back, sighing deeply, he looked at the ceiling. God was his only choice left. And he didn’t think He would have him.

Her prayers were finally answered, but in the answer would come pain. Healing would follow, but only after deep wounds were received. God heard a faithful wife’s cry for her husband, and He moved, shattering the chains that bound him in a hell’s dungeon, so dark that he could feel it. When Peace came, tears came…and a flood of other emotions. He felt light as a snowflake and as pure. There were many things that took many days and months and years to work through, but Emmanuel had come, and death’s dark shadows were put to flight, in 1998, Christmas Night.

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Encouragement

The story above is our own. We’re a long way from 1998. We’ve now been married for over 21 years and we’re moving forward stronger than ever. God has graced Angie and I with a marriage that has twice as many great years as bad. I want to encourage you, in whatever darkness you might find yourself surrounded with: Keep crying out to Emmanuel. I don’t know what Freedom, or Safety, or Hope is going to look like for you, but I do know it is found in the Person of Jesus Christ. He hears you and He knows your pain and sorrow. It isn’t easy living with darkness, or in darkness. But when the One who in Majesty and Awe comes breaking into your deepest night, you will rejoice! Emmanuel will come to you, stay strong.

O COME, O COME EMMANUEL:

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 victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, 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, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

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