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O Come, O Come Emmanuel: Looking Forward with Hope & Joy

December 20, 2021 | Kathryn Green

For many years, my favorite Christmas carol has been “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I think I have been drawn to it because the music and the lyrics prompt a spirit of longing for Emmanuel, God with us, tinged with grief. In it, Israel laments, because God isn’t with them. While He did come to earth to dwell with us in Christ, He is no longer physically present with us, so we, as followers of Christ may also lament.

One year, I was touched by the prayer, because it really is a prayer, in a new way. I was teaching English in a small private college in the countryside of Mongolia. A group of American teachers had served at the college for some years and the pattern that had been established was to take a new incoming class and progress with them through their three years of study until graduation. But this year, due to illness, two beloved teachers had not returned, and the third-year students were without their teacher. They were a close-knit and special class of young students—nearly all Christians—and they had a truly special bond with their teacher. His inability to return grieved them and made many of them question whether they should continue their studies.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I was assigned to take over the class. I felt ill-equipped because I knew I couldn’t replace their teacher. We struggled through the fall term together. Several of the leaders of the class announced their plans to leave the college and go on to other things, which only deepened the grief for the rest. As Christmas approached, we all wondered if there would be a class to continue with in the spring.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

It was tradition at the college to have a dress-up Christmas party with a talent show. This was another thing that the two beloved teachers had instituted and run for years. We worked together with the Mongolian teachers to plan and prepare for the event, even though we knew it wouldn’t be the same as all of us remembered. My class really wrestled with what to do for the talent show. Since it was approaching Christmas, I had begun using Christmas carols in class as English texts. I introduced “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to them and the lament and grieving tone of the song connected with them, allowing them to express their combined grief over their loss together. They decided to learn the song and sing it as their presentation at the talent show.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

I think that finally being able to give voice to their grief fostered a new depth in their communal ties to one another. It also opened them to see the hope of Emmanuel actually being with them together as a class. They found so much joy in His presence with them that they decided to stay the course and finish the year together.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Who knew that teaching a Christmas carol that I loved would have such an impact on this group of young people?

Well, God did. He enabled them to see that Christ really was with them, in their grief and struggles, and He really cared about each one of them. So, as you encounter this carol, lament that Christ is not with us face-to-face—though His very Spirit resides within us—but also look forward with joy, because our hope is secure and He will come again. O come let us adore Him!

Kathryn Green

Social Media Coordinator, Enrollment Counselor

Kathryn brings a wealth of intercultural experience to the YTI team, with a background that includes serving in overseas missions and teaching in […]

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