Posted by: Dan | December 23, 2007

A Time of Longing: 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.

Christmas is a hard time of year for a lot of people, and especially for those who are street-involved. For a lot of people, Christmas is a reminder of the family they don’t have (and maybe never had) a reminder of the ways in which they are unable to provide for children that they hardly (if ever) see, and a reminder that a great deal of peace and joy are absent from their lives. A lot of people relapse during this season. A lot of people commit suicide. A few weeks ago, one of my friends relapsed on crack cocaine. Last week, rumour has it, a young man involved in a program that I participate in, killed himself.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Even for those of us who are not street-involved, Christmas is often marked by a fundamental dissatisfaction. As we put in the mandatory family time, we are reminded of how messed up our own families are, and of how messed up we ourselves are. We are reminded of how incapable we are of giving good gifts to others, and so we drive ourselves deeper and deeper into debt and exchange commodities with one another — commodities that, more often than not, simply function as simulacra of gifts.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

In fact, Christmas has become the biggest structure of debt-perpetuation within the societies of late capitalism. Over forty percent of annual consumption in America occurs in the four weeks between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this way, Christmas, rather than being a festival of liberation, becomes a festival that ensure that we remain in bondage to the socio-economic Powers of our day.

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.

Indeed, as the high-festival of late capitalism, Christmas is intentionally structured to leave us dissatisfied. It is presented in a way that stimulates insatiable desires within us and so, regardless of what we give or receive, our desires are left unsated. After a momentary euphoria, we are left scratching our heads and wondering why we feel so empty.

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.

Thus, oddly enough, Christmas, as it is celebrated today, leaves us feeling exactly what we should feel — longing. It leaves us longing for something more, longing for a home, longing for intimacy with others, longing to give, and receive, good gifts. Therefore, rather than trying to satisfy these longings in superficial ways, Christians are called to embrace these longings and refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the coming of Christ. We are, all of us, longing for the coming of the Lord who will heal our wounds, release us from bondage, and forgive us our debts. We are, all of us, in desperate need of the advent of God-with-us.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

Thus, as we await the coming of our Lord, we must huddle together for warmth, we must learn to create shelters for one another and risk the vulnerability of intimacy. We must learn how to give, and receive, gifts that will sustain us in our exile — gifts of hope, of encouragement, and of solidarity. In this strange land, we must learn to sing the Lord’s Song and, as a community, we will learn to sing these strange, counter-intuitive words:

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel.

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