December 3, 2018
We are officially past Thanksgiving, and Advent has begun. No matter what your opinion of Christmas music is and when it is acceptable to play it, you have probably started hearing the joyful (and sometimes repetitive) songs. Over the past few years I’ve realized something funny about my own knowledge of Christmas music: I can only sing the first two verses by heart. I’ve listened to the same set of songs every December for years now, and the third verse is always a struggle. When it comes to Christmas and Advent music, whether it’s on the radio or in mass, we usually stick to the first two verses and the refrain.
The only reason I may have a faint recollection of the lyrics past verse two comes from the time I spent singing for Christmas concerts with the choirs I was a part of in high school and college. I remember being in shock when my college choir director told us that we would be memorizing all SEVEN verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” for our upcoming Christmas concert. I don’t think I’d ever gotten to verse five before that year. As we rehearsed, I was surprised to discover that I really enjoyed knowing and singing all the verses of this beautiful hymn. Rehearsing for our concert was mingled with prayer that prepared my heart for Christmas that year.
The next year I was no longer a part of my school’s choir. However, I still wanted the beauty of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to help me enter into the season of Advent and prepare my heart for Christmas. I made the decision to sing this hymn—all seven verses of it—each day during Advent. There were times when I sang it with friends, there were times when I sang it in a quiet and dark chapel at the end of a night of studying, and there were times when I quietly sang it in my bedroom hoping that my roommates didn’t think I was weird. As I repeated the lyrics each day, I noticed that the song is one of deep longing and hope. The verses describe the loneliness and trials of the people of Israel as they await their Savior. They also express why they need the Messiah to come: to order all things, to teach them how to live, to give them victory over the grave, and to fill the world with peace. After each expectant verse comes the confident refrain telling Israel to rejoice because their Savior is indeed coming. As these words echoed through my heart while singing them, so did the Israelites’ longing for the Messiah. I found that meditating on their desire for a Savior for the few minutes that it took me to sing the hymn greatly increased my awareness of my need for Jesus in my own life. There were areas in my life where I was not letting God in, and there was a real loneliness in those places just like the Israelites experienced. I needed Jesus to enter my life so that He could do for me what the lyrics insisted He would do: to order all things, to teach me how to live, to give me victory over sin and death, and to fill my life with peace.
Faithfully singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” each day for four weeks gave me a better understanding of the season of Advent. It invoked a deeper longing and a deeper hope for Jesus in my heart. I encourage you to find a way to enter into Advent more fully this year. Whether or not you choose to sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” every day is up to you, but find some way to meditate on your own need for a Savior. Where are the areas of your life where you have felt a lack of God’s presence? Are there parts of your heart that have been waiting for a Savior for a long time? How do you want the Lord to restore order, give you wisdom, free you from sin, or bring peace to your life? Let your longing and hope fill you this Advent season. Jesus is indeed coming, and He delights in being your Savior.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Bethany Claussen | FOCUS Missionary, University of Nebraska at Omaha