O Come, O Come Emmanuel

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel.

Who needs to be ransomed? Until recently, I had always thought this “ransom” essentially meant “bail” like in the famous Boyd K. Packer analogy of the Atonement. 

But a ransom is a price that, in a just world, never would have been set to end a suffering that, in a just world, never would have been borne. 

So those who have been unjustly deprived of their free will need the Savior’s ransoming power: those who have been kidnapped, trafficked or enslaved; those who have lived with violence, cruelty, oppression, prejudice, racism, loss, poverty, mental illness, addiction, exploitation, bullying, social exclusion, chronic illness, disability, fear or shame, to name a few. 

Who mourn in lonely exile here
Until the son of God appear.

Someone close to me, who lived with a chronic illness for many years, was a force of nature – she climbed trees before she could walk; she sang before she could talk. Her soul was as wide and deep as an ocean, and she made everyone feel loved, included and seen. As her body deteriorated, she increasingly felt exiled from the life she was born to live. Her spirit was trapped in what felt increasingly like a very lonely prison – one that left her unable to run or eventually even walk; unable to sing or eventually even talk. She waited, through her last breath, for the Son of God to appear.

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

I’ve had an extended annus horribilis since 2020, with more forms of loss, betrayal, abandonment and tyranny than I really understood were possible–and I study this stuff for a living. Of course, the worst of it was witnessing my children suffer as the lives they knew crumbled before their eyes over and over again. Mourning the death of the life I thought I was going to live and building a new normal – for me and for my children – has felt like mountain climbing upward through various circles of hell. But Jesus Christ’s covenant was to descend into the darkest places imaginable in order to weave and leave ropes for us like the one I’m hanging onto. The promise of a Messiah means there is no grave so deep or hell so lost that He cannot find us.

O Come thou Day Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Christ couldn’t be resurrected until He had died. He couldn’t heal until He had suffered. He couldn’t cleanse until he’d borne the filth of the world. And at the first Christmas, none of these things had happened yet. Someone I know likes to say that Christmas isn’t that big a deal because nothing really happened – it was just a baby being born, like every baby is born; it brought no deliverance.

But something did happen on the first Christmas. God’s promise of deliverance was made tangible in the form of a sweet, wiggly, helpless child. That promise is a source of hope when there is no hope; a candle in the middle of oppressive darkness; the face of God in a tiny little baby. We don’t always live to see our own or our loved ones’ deliverance. But we can witness its promise; hold onto its hope. Whatever answers the future holds for us, as a wise Bishop once told me, the Savior will never abandon a child. And we are all His children.

So,

Rejoice! Rejoice:
Emmanuel shall come to thee
O Israel.

In my case, I have a testimony that the ideal family for me is the one I have right now, because I can live and love and grow in it right now; it is here that Emmanuel promised to ransom me. I’m grateful to be the matriarch in my little tribe of broken hearts, because it’s broken hearts and contrite spirits Christ covenanted to heal and fill with peace.

This Christmas, I remember that the Son of God has covenanted to ransom captive Israel – each of us – regardless of the nature of our captivity. His salvation, His ransoming gift of freedom, may not yet have come. But I hold sacred its promise in the form of a helpless, tiny baby in a manger.

Comments

  1. This is a beautiful meditation. Thank you.

  2. Loved this.

  3. Thank you for your beautiful, insightful reflection. I am sorry you have been through hell the past couple years. Your wisdom and faith are inspirational.

  4. My favorite use of “ransom” is here:
    https://hopkinspoetry.com/poem/the-lantern-out-of-doors/

  5. Sometimes the best posts get the least response … because what can I say beyond “thank you”?

  6. Thank you. I’ve thought on this over the past day and we used it as our family devotional. I love the hymn and it’s solemn tone. And I love your thoughts surrounding it.

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