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This Advent, for our Daily Word emails, we are going to use hymns from this season of waiting to draw our attention to our Lord’s Coming. Each week, we will take one hymn and reflect on a section of it each day in our usual style. In this way, we hope to offer you a way to make your spiritual preparations for this season and for the arrival of our Lord. We begin this week with the hymn we typically sing in church throughout Advent: “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.”

O Come, O Come Immanuel 1

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

The Israelites knew about waiting. Abraham and Sarah waited for God’s promise of a child. Moses and the people spent years waiting to find the land God promised to them. David waited years before his anointing as king came to fruition. And then Israelites endured years of exile and captivity—divine judgement—before they were able to return to the land.

By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept,” Psalm 137:1 tells us. The Israelites were far from life as they knew it. The temple and the land were visible signs of God’s presence and promises, and yet they were long gone. In their lamenting, they were angry and prayed for vengeance for the captivity they had experienced and the harm they had experienced (“O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!” v.8).

In contrast to ancient Israel, we are not so good at lament. We may be able to name our fears to God, but rarely are we good at naming the real losses we experience. Rarely do we say what is on our hearts about our fears—perhaps we fear that God has forgotten us or overlooked us. It is humbling, even humiliating, to sit with unanswered questions of why things didn’t pan out in the way we expected, wanted or longed for. It is hard to wrestle with the tension of the present darkness we may be facing with the promise that the God we worship is faithful and will deliver us from evil. Despite our hesitancy to embrace lament and the wilderness of uncertainty, it’s what we find expressed again and again in the Psalms. And contrary to what we might expect, to lament is to actually to trust in God’s goodness–that He is good and faithful despite what our experiences tell us, and thus we have grounds for complaint.

So as with the Israelites, who were unafraid to grieve, mourn and ask hard questions of God until He stepped in to rescue, in Advent we do not need to force our faces into smiles if we too have doubts and questions. No, we can grieve our losses, whatever they may be; we can pray the reality of our brokenness and the injustice of experience, and know that our Savior will come to us. He will meet us in the manger, even in the midst of our despair and in our waiting: He will come.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries
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