O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of my favorite Advent hymns. Emmanuel (“God with us”) is one of my favorite names for Jesus, so I could sing this every day of our four-week preparation to celebrate the incarnation. I love the refrain, but I also welcome the verses that come before it.
Yesterday was the winter solstice; the shortest day of the year – and also the first day of winter. Where I live in Wisconsin, yesterday yielded only eight hours and 59 minutes of daylight. And most of that daylight was overcast, so we still didn’t see the sun.
Last night was the longest night.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
This time of year – despite the Christmas music that’s been playing since November 1 and the decorations and lights that have been up since before Thanksgiving – many people find themselves in a season of the longest night.
The burdens we carry, may merely slow us down, causing us to tire before the end of the day. Sometimes, we think we’ve left these burdens behind, and find that they surprise us when we least expect it and we feel helpless to not pick them back up. Sometimes the burdens of life have become so heavy that we cannot remember what simple joy feels like. Hope, peace, joy, love – these are eclipsed by the burdens we bear and in their place we carry hopelessness, unrest, dread, and darkness.
My heart is heavy for the burdens I know family, friends and acquaintances carry:
Addiction – or loving someone struggling with addiction
Another year – or the first year – without a loved one
And the list could go on. And it feels like night, our lonely exile, will go on forever as well. On the longest night, we desire the simple joy of children looking to Christmas – but we find that even this can be a heavy burden. On the longest night, we acknowledge the heavy weight these burdens place on us. But we also remember with expectation that Christmas will bring the arrival of something new in our lives. We embrace the truth that despite the longest night, Jesus will help us to relinquish these burdens and replace them with hope, peace, joy and love.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Hope can arrive in a second. And today offers one more second of light than yesterday – and tomorrow, six more seconds than today. The Light is coming.
Jesus joins us in our weeping. Jesus invites us to believe. Jesus brings life to that which seems dead. Jesus unbinds us from what keeps us in darkness and leads us into the light of new life. Even in during the longest night, may we be sheltered in God’s promise to redeem all things for His glory as we are guided by the light of Christ. Amen.