Pastor’s Corner (12/2/2021)
O come, Desire of nations, bind
all people in one heart and mind;
bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Stanza 7)
This is one of my favorite Advent hymns. Perhaps it is the simple elegance of the tune that sings to my heart. Of course, the words are also striking. It does not feel like Advent to me until I have had a chance to sing this classic hymn. The origins of this hymn come from the 12th century and was later adapted into this form. This hymn comes from the Latin “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” The opening line in our current version of the hymn begins “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Depending on my mood, I hear this opening as a command on some days and on others I hear it as a plaintive cry. As we know “Emmanuel” comes from the Hebrew and means “God is with us.” In this ancient hymn we call out to Emmanuel, in command or plaintive cry, asking God to be with us. Throughout history human, beings have yearned to know that God is present and with us. I suspect this yearning has only deepened as time has passed. As we continue to move through these challenging times we, like those before us, still cry out plaintively and sometimes with a bit of command in our voices. We yearn to know that God is still with us.
As we sang this familiar hymn on the 1st Sunday of Advent, I was really struck by the 7th stanza. Not only do we yearn to know that God is with us, we also yearn for the sense that we are bound together. This stanza opens with another title for Emmanuel; “O come, Desire of nations,” We go on to sing “bind all people in one heart and mind.” In this time of division, I know I long for this sense of unity. The hymn goes on with the request “bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.” I suspect my life could be much more peaceful if I were better able to let go of envy, strife, and discord. I find myself wondering if I would be better able to experience the peace that this time of year offers.
At the end of each stanza we sing “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” Although we face many challenges as individuals and as part of the global community, we are invited to rejoice as well. This does not mean that we push aside our troubles. Contrary to popular belief, we can be aware of the difficulties of life and simultaneously rejoice. This Advent we are invited into a spirit of rejoicing in various ways. Each Sunday of Advent we gather for worship to rejoice. We are guided by the weekly themes of hope, peace, love, and joy. We will rejoice in the Holy Scriptures and in song. We are also invited to rejoice as we gather on Wednesday evenings to share in a meal and to gather for our study “Light of the World” created by scholar and professor Amy-Jill Levine. We are also invited to rejoice each day as we move through our Advent devotional “Travelling with Our Ancestors.”
As we move through this Advent may we be encouraged by the words of this beloved hymn. May the joy of this season empower us to “bid envy, strife, and discord cease; fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”
With a joyful heart,