“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Exhortation for First Sunday in Advent

Advent! The arrival of a notable person! The coming of a life changing event! In theology, we speak of the Advent of Jesus to refer to two events: first, the coming of Jesus in his birth and second, the coming of Jesus at the end of history. Either way, we retell the story of the coming Messiah to change the pages of history.

Advent is the start of the new year which means we are walking through those dark days of expectation as Israel awaited the promise of the prophetic writings the arrival of a new king. And one of the great Advental hymns in the last 700 years is the famous “Veni Emmanuel” translated “O Come Emmanuel.”

We will close with that great hymn today, but I want to stress two promises this song alerts us as we sing:

First, “free thy own from Satan’s tyranny.” Advent reminds us that when Jesus arrives he destroys the devil’s work among the nations. We sometimes sing this hymn without understanding its central message that Jesus takes back what rightly belongs to him. And what rightly belongs to him? The nations. Satan’s tyranny is ended and Jesus’ birth initiates a new era in history.

But second, another promise fulfilled in the birth of Jesus is found in the last verse of this great hymn: “Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.” The language indicates that Jesus burst open the gates of heaven for all the saints. In other words, he came to set the captives free; those in exile, imprisoned by Satan’s tyranny. The coming of Jesus ended the misery of expectation. Imagine if we only expected but never saw the fruition of our expectations? But Jesus’ arrival ends our waiting and opens heaven for all nations. And for these reasons and many others, we rejoice today for Emmanuel has come to Israel and indeed the whole world.

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