O Come, O Come Emmanuel

“… and ransom captive Israel.” [author unknown]

I have mixed feelings about Christmas.

I love the overarching narrative of the original Christmas story. God became man to show us a better way of living. He used unexpected circumstances to come into the world and announced his arrival to religious outcasts. He subverted both the religious and political establishment and grew up in relative obscurity until the time came to establish his ministry.


Over the centuries many religious practices and traditions have been established to help cement the significance of these events in our minds. We sing because the angels appeared to the shepherds in song;

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth… [Luke 2:13-14 The Message]

We give gifts because the Magi came bearing gifts fit for a king;

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. [Matthew 2:11 The Message]

And we get together with family and friends to celebrate, worship and eat because really what else are we going to do with all that food?

All of these things we do at Christmas are good things. But I have mixed feelings about Christmas because as Timothy Keller so aptly put it;

Idolatry means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing. [Timothy Keller; Every Good Endeavor, Connecting Your Work to God’s Work]

For many, even for many Christians, Christmas is no longer about the birth of a savior. No, Christmas stopped being about salvation and God’s rescue mission for humanity, a long time ago. Now the good and fun things about Christmas, the singing, the gifts, the family and friends have become all there is. As a result the Christmas season itself has become an idol. We worship the season without giving a second thought to the significance of what God has done as a result of coming into human existence.

I make no secret of the fact that I can be an emotional person. For a forty something year old man I cry a lot and I don’t care who knows it. Last Sunday my wife had a panic attack about all the things we needed to do in order to be ready for Christmas. The list was endless but not a single thing on her list had anything to do with celebrating our salvation as a result of the birth of Jesus. While she cried about buying gifts and baking cookies and doing laundry I remembered the words of a 12th century Christmas song and I quietly wept for everyone who is caught up in the idolatry of Christmas.

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 depth 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 the 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
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We’ve made good things into ultimate things and lost site of the only true thing, and I weep for our loss. This Christmas please join me as I pray the words of that ancient hymn;

O come, o come Emmanuel…



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