O Come, O Come Immanuel 2
O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel,
shall come to you, O Israel.
It might seem odd at first read to find the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites on Mount Sinai in the middle of a Christmas carol!
First, this is set to remind us that God heard His people when trapped in slavery. As the people of Egypt suffer plague after plague, God remembers and sets free the people that have been calling out to Him. It is a reminder that whatever we’ve faced or are facing, we worship a God who, throughout the story of scripture, has heard His people, longed to be with them and set them free.
So, God brings His people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. At Mount Sinai, He makes them His own, leading them as their King and giving them laws to guide them into lives that are holy and righteous. God then speaks to Moses again: He teaches him how to build the tabernacle, the place where His presence will live, so He will can be with His people. They build it, and God fills it, but even Moses cannot enter the tent where God is found because the holiness of God renders Him unapproachable to those of us who are so broken by the world and our own sin.
Most beautiful here is the subtle reminder that the law and the tabernacle only get us so far–that God wanted to dwell with His people, but this ‘tabernacle’ was a poor substitution for His holy presence with us in the world. At Christmas, God takes human form as someone with whom we can converse, see, know and encounter, or–as “The Message” translation puts it–God moves into the neighborhood. He becomes the face we see when we collect the mail or need someone to watch the dog or the children. He becomes as real and as close to us as those people we see every day.
If today you need a reminder that God has heard you, think of the Israelites–how God longed to be with them, but could only come as close as the tabernacle. How blessed are we to know God incarnate, Immanuel: God with us; God in the neighborhood; God drawing close as our comforter and guide.
O come, O come Immanuel, indeed.