O Come, O Come, Immanuel 3
O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
I remember Bette Midler’s anthem, “From a Distance,” released several decades ago. Many people loved the lyrics of this pop song that gave a universal vision of beauty, peace, hope and acceptance of our common life and the interconnectedness of one another. Others felt like it was an indictment on the First Gulf War due to the timing of its release. In reality, the song had been written more than five years earlier when the struggling composer was thrilled to have her childhood piano once more accessible to her!
My friend Susan particularly disliked this song, not because of a perceived political message or its sentimental worldview. No, she absolutely hated the lines, “God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us from a distance.” I still remember Susan’s vehemence as she proclaimed, “God is not a faraway observer! God is active and involved, close-up, here and now!!!”
She was right, of course, but so were the lyrics of the song. Both visions of God are true–God is immanent and God is transcendent. The Church has long had to grapple with these paradoxical visions of who God is in relation to God’s creation, particularly we humans.
We read in Genesis 2 of God fashioning Adam out of the soil and then taking a rib from Adam to form Eve. This is literally hands-on creative work! God spoke directly to the patriarch Abraham and gave the law to Moses personally. And yet, Genesis 1 paints God as totally ‘other.’ As biblical scholar Nahum Sarna described God’s first spoken words in creating light, “The divine word shatters the primal cosmic silence and signals the birth of a new cosmic order.” The ancient Hebrews considered God so incomprehensible and holy that they dared not speak God’s name.
Advent gets us prepared for that one event in history when God fully burst through the layers of clouds, cherubim and seraphim, archangels and incense, into the mess of our reality. He did so that humans may come to understand that, while God is wholly ‘other,’ our holy God desired that nothing separate Godself from humans–not even the experience of being human. The Sovereign of the Universe became God-with-us through the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, signaling to the human family that God is near and among us.
 Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (New York: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 7.