When I was little Christmas felt so magical. I remember the anticipation for Christmas felt almost unbearable at times. One of my most cherished gifts as a child was a book of Christmas hymns. My mother probably doesn’t remember giving it to me, but I will never forget it. I learned so many songs and their origins from this book. One of my favorite things about the advent season is the music. Even now I wait in anticipation for the end of the liturgical year for the Christmas hymns.
One of my favorite songs is “Veni veni, Emmanuel” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” “Veni, veni Emmanuel” was written as part of (or a paraphrase of) O Antiphons to be used as Vespers during the final days of Advent. It is now used as hymn for the first week of Advent. Its lyrics are most profound.
The hymn opens with:
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.
Advent is a season filled with great expectancy. The book of Titus writes, in chapter two,”[…} we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of God and our savior Jesus Christ.” Whenever I hear the words, “O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here,” I can’t help but imagine the political turmoil of world. I sing this hymn and see the Syrian refugees that have fled to Turkey for asylum. I see the people rioting in Ferguson, MO. I see the parents of children mourning the loss of their children murdered in school shootings. I see soldiers at war. I see the homeless being ignored. I see the LGBT community being tormented. I see the kidnapped Nigerian girls. I see terrorist acts of ISIS. I see infants perishing at the hands of their own parents. I see victims of rape and domestic violence living in fear. I see young girls being sold into sex slavery. I see a world being torn apart by greed, by selfishness, by hatred, by wrath- by sin.
Out of the depths we cry out to you, O Lord. Lord hear our voices! O Lord, hear our prayers.
Even in mourning, the Jews in ancient Israel had faith that asylum would come to them. They rejoiced amidst great trauma. They rejoiced because they lived in hope. Just as the Jews of the ancient age waited for redemption, we wait and live in the blessed hope of Christ. Advent is a reminder that we can rejoice for we have hope. Pope Francis said during his General Audience last Advent, “The time of Advent that we begin again today returns us to the horizon of hope, a hope that does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!”Even in the darkest of days, we have hope.
Let us spend this advent remembering those captive refugees who mourns in lonely exile. We (as Christians) should live in the fullness of Christ’s love by giving hope to those who have none. Feed the poor. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Be an ally to the marginalized. Speak out against injustice. Stand in solidarity with the persecuted. Hold and hug the mourning.