“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.” (O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by John Mason Neale)
One of my dad’s favourite Christmas carols was “O come, O come, Emmanuel”. Its mournful, minor key would feature in our liturgical church services during the season of Advent, when I was growing up. The song speaks of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, waiting for centuries for the coming of the promised Messiah. It may also refer to the period in Jewish history when the nation was taken from their homeland and held in captivity for 70 years. My dad would sing the song with enthusiasm, and explained why it was so meaningful to him.
My dad had been working in Singapore, in what was then Malaya, with Bata, a Czech company. WWII had broken out in the Far East with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. In February, 1942, the Japanese invaded the island of Singapore, and it fell after only a week of fighting. My dad ended up in the Changi Prison along with more than three thousand other POWs and civilians, and after two years was moved to an outdoor camp. Here the prisoners were able to move about more freely, but their food supply eventually dwindled to almost nothing. It was at church services my dad attended in the camp that he sang the poignant hymn above. The words of the song echoed the prisoners’ exile in a lonely, primitive camp, only six miles from the centre of Singapore, yet removed from all they had previously known. They were not free.
“Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.” (Galatians 3:23 NLT)
Likewise, there may be areas in our lives that imprison us. We were all once held captive in the prison of sin, until the Holy Spirit broke through, and we became free to live the life God had long ago prepared for us.
“But he [Jesus] was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT)
We may be imprisoned by the hurts of the past, yet the Lord promises us healing from traumatic events that have affected us.
“The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (I Corinthians 10:13 NLT)
Addictions may bind us in chains, but God shows us a way out!
Emmanuel – God is with us. This Advent season symbolically looks forward to the great provision God has made for all our sin and shortcomings. Rejoice! He is with us. We can turn to Him and be free.
Red Deer, Alberta, Canada