o come, emmanuel: a great hope in the midst of utter seasonal distress

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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.

Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s time to celebrate our Savior’s birth stress about making this holiday season perfect for the family and making sure everyone is here on time and the decorations are gorgeous and everyone has the perfect gift and the all the food is delicious and everyone is happy and laughing and the weather must be cold because that’s what Christmas is suppose to be and there must be good music that everyone likes and this must be the best Christmas ever.

Beyond prayer, breathing exercises, and the Christmas excitement that I really do embody, this is the mode my mind automatically switches to when I first think of Christmas: it has to be perfect. And I have to make it that way.

However, this Christmas season I really decided that I wanted to experience the Christmas season in its entirety by celebrating advent leading up to the day. As my home girl Taylor Swift says on her Christmas album , I just had this itching feeling that “Christmas Must Be Something More.” (yes, that was a promotion 😉 )

But really… it has to be more than the rush of anticipation and excitement that I get come Christmas Eve’s eve when family begins to come into town. It has to be more than the happiness of gift-opening and gift-giving that is great fun but eventually fades with time. It has to be more than cute little songs and spreading Christmas cheer by “singing loud for all to hear.” It has to be more than having a fun and jolly holiday season that eventually ends, continuing on with the daily grind. It has to be more for those people that don’t even have anything, any time, any food, any place, any gifts, or anyone to engage this Christmas season with.

In the years post-Santa belief, my heart has yearned with an angst that screamed, “Where is this great promise that You told us about, God? Where’s the gift? Where’s the rescue from this constant struggle to make it perfect, make it right? Where is the something more, Jesus?”

And in this season He has whispered to my heart, “it’s in me.”

You see, the media is constantly feeding us this idea of “Christmas magic.” That someday, somehow, someway the 25th of December makes the universe turn on our side and there’s no pain on this day. Family issues evaporate into thin air. Money suddenly appears blowing in the wind towards you in your time of need. Death doesn’t happen. Everyone is cozy indoors. Candles are lit and the whole town sings in perfect harmony to “Silent Night.”Christmas miracles are real if you only believe. One saint hears you and the other 7 billion people on this planet and handles all the requests in one 24-hour period. At least for 24-hours, everything can be a perfect miracle.

But it isn’t. By prayer, reading the Bible and various Christmas books, and candid contemplation, this is the conclusion I have arrived at:

Family issues are present and even more evident when everyone is together. Money is a problem, and it’s impossible to afford what everyone wants or even what one person wants. People die just days before or even on Christmas morning. Many people still go without shelter. Some hungry people still go without food. You find out that the magical saint they told you about for years isn’t even real. Everyone is singing “Silent Night,” but your heart is burdened with the weight of utter disappointment. Nothing is perfect– not even for 24 hours.

Yet into all of this mess:

the cycle of subtle sorrow and disenchantment and misunderstanding and loneliness

the madness of a season where the world tells us “this (community, family, food, gifts, decor, singing, etc.) will fulfill”

the tireless chasing of unsatisfying fixes.

Into all off this, a child is born.

And He is called Emmanuel.

And the government rests upon His shoulders.

And He is called Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And He has come for our rescue.

He has come to be something more.

He has come to be the miracle.

Isn’t it just like humanity, to pervert a season with false hope when authentic hope is offered to us? Yet isn’t that just like our God, to come to us when we are at our ugliest? In the time of year when our fickle hearts look to everything else to fulfill, He enters into this mess of this world– the world that has abused His birth for profit and toxic fixes.

His love is that strong.

This season, I’m begging you: don’t take hope in “Christmas cheer” or other false hopes that this world so easily tries to sell us. Though initially enticing, it will leave you disappointed. I hate it for people that do buy into that; this season will leave them feeling beyond hope.

Instead, take hope that Love came down. If your heart is whispering “there must be something more,” your heart is right. There is something more, and it came to us. He came to us. He knew what He was doing. God entered into this unforgiving, racist, rude, unmerciful, nasty, paralyzing world in order to bring us into His kingdom of eternal love. This is our greatest hope: He came to live among us so that we could dwell with Him forever.

In the midst of this temporary mess, Christ came to be with us for eternity.

He didn’t disregard our anguish.

He didn’t say “I’d rather not.”

He didn’t leave us to the strivings of a deceased Saint Nicholas.

He didn’t abandon us to the grave.

He didn’t allow us to live in fear and loneliness.

The God of everything came to Earth because He knew we needed something greater.

And He came to be our something more… forevermore.

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“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.”

– Isaiah 9:1-7b