Rejoicing In A Minor Key
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
As far as I’m concerned, the season of Advent has not begun until the church sings these words before a single candle’s flame.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is the quintessential Advent hymn because it embodies the profound tension of the season. On the one hand we rejoice in anticipation of Christ’s arrival on Christmas morning, and indeed, that Christ has already come. But on the other hand, we mourn that our world is not yet perfect and still in great need of a savior. So we rejoice, but we do so in a minor key.
The beauty of this hymn is that it guides us through this very difficult tension so naturally, but to grasp the theological truth behind this movement is to truly appreciate the power and urgency of Advent. Yes, we need the light of Christmas morning; but it may be that we need to acknowledge the darkness that makes this light necessary even more.
To truly immerse ourselves in the season Advent is one of the most countercultural and even subversive things we can do as a church. When the rest of the world is draping their houses with colorful, blinking lights, here we are lighting candles one at a time. When the rest of the world is singing “have a holly, jolly Christmas,” here we are singing about being “ransomed captive,” and “mourning in lonely exile.” When the rest of the world is awash in red and green, our children know that daddy will be wearing a purple tie to church on Sunday. When the rest of the world is hunting for sales, here we are waiting for a Messiah. There’s a tension in all of these things, and it’s this tension where Advent sits and waits.
And the truth is, we in the church are included in “the rest of the world,” so we feel the tension even within ourselves. The Dickison family put up their Christmas last weekend and the lights went up soon after, just in time for our Sunday school class Christmas party. Even as we do our best to honor the season of Advent, we will give in to the inertia of Christmas, too.
And this is okay. Remember, we’re still rejoicing, even if it is in a minor key.
Observing Advent doesn’t mean raining on the Christmas parade. By all means, wish each other a merry Christmas, but remember the tenderness this season brings. Deck the halls and hang the lights, only when you do, take a moment to acknowledge the shadows that are cast. Look toward Christmas morning with as much childlike anticipation as you can muster. But don’t forget the world’s need for a savior in the meantime. And by all means, don’t forget that this savior has already come and gone, and the part of himself he left behind lives in you.