'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'

David Lose
12/18/2012

'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'

My heart is breaking, as I know yours is, for all those affected by the shootings in Connecticut. It’s hard for us to contemplate the horror, grief and loss of the families of those poor children, teachers and staff. It’s even harder for us to understand the madness that could motivate someone to such a heinous act. Contemplating any of this, let alone all of it, is nearly overwhelming. All we can do is hold them in prayer, surround them with love, and when the time comes ask hard questions about the elements of our culture and policies that contribute to such atrocities.

Before these awful events, I had been thinking about using an Advent or Christmas carol as the poem this week. Over the last 24 hours, one verse of one of my favorites keeps coming to mind:

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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. ("Service Book and Hymnal #2")

This verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," is based on one of the seven "O Antiphons," each of which calls on God by one of the divine attributes attested in Scripture. This one comes from the prophet Isaiah, who said, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown" (9:1).

And that’s where I am right now: darkness, sadness, grief, gloom. We need light. We need cheer. We need hope and more. We need, in short, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and we believe that God is present to those who suffer in Connecticut and all over this world God loves so much. But sometimes it’s hard to see, hard even to believe.

Advent, I know, is a time of waiting. But suddenly the wait seems interminable. At times like this, we need to remember -- and remind each other -- that we do not, any of us, wait alone. We are in this together, as a community, as a nation, and as a family of faith.

Some wait for healing this season, and we wait with them. Others wait for relationship, and we wait with them, as well. Some wait for work, others for word of their loved ones, and some wait for the numbness and pain to abate, even as they fear what life will be like once it does. We wait with them all.

I suspect that for the families whose children were gunned down, Christmas will never be the same. And as we wait with them, we also pray and, if we find our courage, maybe we will also sing, asking our Lord the Dayspring and giver of light and life to bring us cheer, to disperse the gloomy clouds of night and put death’s dark shadows to flight.

It may be a long time until we believe again the words we are singing, but I believe it’s worth the wait.

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David Lose is the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in biblical preaching at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. He is also the author of "Making Sense of Scripture" (2009), a book that helps everyday Christians read the Bible with greater understanding and enjoyment, and "Confessing Jesus Christ: Preaching in a Postmodern World" (2003), which was named one of the "Top 10 Books of 2004" by the Academy of Parish Clergy.

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