There has never been an Advent in which I understood so well the words to O Come, O Come Emmanuel. We sang that hymn the week following all of the riots and protests and racism demonstrations. I realized afresh the depravity of my own heart and that of the world around me. My heart was already broken by the world I live in - the world my kids live in - and then we sang.
O come, o come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Oh God, come and save us. Save us from our brokenness. Save us from our sin. Save my kids from the path that our twisted world has laid out for them. Save them from the expectation of poverty and discrimination and prison and death and abuse and drugs and violence. Put right the wrongs that are done to them, whether physically or mentally. Put right our thinking and our society. Bring justice to our class divisions and our city divides and our racial biases. Bring your love and your peace to our streets. Bring fairness to our police and courts. Break the death that inhabits our streets. Bring your kingdom - bring us back from exile.
The next week, someone threatened some of our kids with a gun while sledding.
The next week, my friend died.
The Sunday before Christmas, I ended up preaching a sermon about exile. The readings were about David and God's promise to build him a kingdom and a house that would last forever. And while that is a message of hope, it is also a promise that seems to be in stark contrast to the world around me sometimes. Terrible things happen. Cancer kills. People get shot on the corner. We are in exile. Waiting for our king to come back.
That Sunday, we sang these words:
Though I am small, my God my all
you work great things in me.
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame
and to those who would for you yearn
you will show your might, put the strong to flight
for the world is about to turn.
My heart shall sing of the day you bring
let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near
and the world is about to turn.
God is not done here. He will come. He will put things right. He is doing it.
But now, I understand our exile more. This year in North Central, Christmas was a celebration. It was also a raw cry to the living God to come and save. Come and break death.
36 kids and adults worshiped together - families whose members have murdered one another, who bully one another, who have maimed each other, who were baptized together. And we all acted out the Christmas story together. And we all prayed together for God's kingdom to come - for God to come and save us. And they all clapped and thumped and stomped a beat together as we sang:
Rank on rank the hosts of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way
as the Light of Lights descendeth
from the realms of endless day;
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.