Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our Lord, the anointed for the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

I don’t know about you, but often when I look at the pictures of that first Christmas, they evoke in me a sense of loneliness. The young mother and father fending for themselves in a dirty stable. Oh sure, there are shepherds and animals … but there is always (to my mind at least) the hole left by family and friends. No matter how much activity goes on inside the stable, it still feels lonely and isolated, apart from the rest of the community.

Perhaps that’s how you feel as the countdown to Christmas races into its final days and hours. No matter how busy or full of activity your life has become, it is still possible to feel lonely and isolated. No matter how many well-wishers and visitors come by, if the family you need can’t be with you, it just won’t feel right. Lonely exile is how the hymn writer put it. It is a mournful thought indeed.

But whether such mournful loneliness is something the artists seek to stir up in us, or it is something we bring with us when we  celebrate Christmas … it isn’t really true. Christmas is the end of our lonely exile. Christmas is the end of our isolation, the beginning of true community.

The stable is not a picture of loneliness, but of closest and most meaningful communion. Emmanuel – God with us! Where sin once isolated us, removed us from the community of heaven, with the coming of God in the flesh that isolation is finally removed. God is here with us in the flesh. God is now a part of our human family. And because He has become a part of our earthly family, we are now a part of His heavenly one! A family bond that stretches back through the ages, stretches across all the vast distances of this globe. A family bond that not even death or grief can break.

As the angel hosts joined with lowly shepherds in praising this Emmanuel, be comforted dear Christians, for your praises join those of loved ones of all time and space. God is with us, and in Him we are together with those who went before and those who will come after! Rejoice! Rejoice! In Christ we are one blessed family with the greatest reunion already planned. And what a Christmas celebration that will be!

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!

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O Come, O King of the Nations

O King of the nations, the ruler they long for, the cornerstone uniting all people: Come and save us all, whom You formed out of clay.

Violence and bloodshed seem to lead the evening news nearly every day. Our word is tragically divided, and splitting into greater violence all the time. International tensions, sectarian violence, resistance fighters and independence seekers … sometimes it is enough to make us ask if anyone out there even wants to get along, much less whether or not we ever will.

Even in our own relatively peaceful corner of the world there is little unity. Suspicion and mistrust of those with a different perspective, or a different agenda, are just a prevalent today as they were long before the ideas of tolerance and acceptance were being preached as the virtues of modern multicultural society. The man-made structures seeking peace and unity seem to have no power to accomplish it, while those who sow discord and disunity seem to do so with little or no restrictions.

Deep down, I believe that everyone wants peace … but just not enough to be willing to give up their autonomy to gain it. “We can have peace as long as you are willing to do it my way” in other words. Such a peace can never happen … will never happen. True Unity cannot be brought about unilaterally.

Well, that’s not all-together true. Such a peace and unity can be found unilaterally – but not at the hands of you or me. There is one Leader, one King, who can do it. Who has done it! One cornerstone upon which all our desires for peace and harmony have already been fulfilled – are being fulfilled even now. Jesus.

That unity crosses the boundaries of nation, and people, language, and race. It is a unity I see every Sunday when I look out over God’s people gathered in His house, around the Son and His gifts. Young and old, successful and struggling, men, women, and children of every colour, ethnicity, and background represented. People who otherwise would have nothing in common with each other, standing shoulder to shoulder before the King of Peace. Not by strength of conviction but in the shared experience of the peace that comes through the forgiveness He brings. And in that one glorious sight, in that promise of forgiveness for one and all alike, I have great hope for the coming of true peace and unity in our world.

 O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!

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O Come Thou Dayspring

O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

There’s just something about all the lights at this time of year. In the cold and the dark of winter it does the heart good to see so many bright and festive lights festooning trees, and bathing front windows in a warm glow. The dark can be a depressing place to be. It can be a fearful place to be. It can be a lonely place to be. But a little bit of happy colour – a simple strand or two of well-placed lights, can make the dark seem safer, cozier, more friendly.

But many people know that there is a much deeper darkness that descends just around this time of year. The winter sun may be brightly beaming, but the world can still seem dark and gloomy for some. The holidays are a particularly tough time for many people facing illness, separation, grief or loss. There is nothing worse than the world telling you that you should be happy, when you can’t be. There is nothing more painful than watching others gather with family when you can’t.  There’s nothing harder than seeing others giving and receiving when your life feels like it’s been taken from you.

But that’s why Jesus came. For broken families, for broken lives, for the sick and the lonely, the doubting and the despairing. He came into our world, to be knee-deep in the reality of living here as you and I do.  Indeed, His life was so much like ours that at times it is downright depressing to read about. At times it must have seemed pretty dark. Born in a barn, not a palace. Placed in a manger, not a royal bed. Attended to by shepherds. Hunted and hounded by the powers that be. And eventually crucified like a common criminal, dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.

The story of this coming child is a very dark tale … until … on the third day the tomb is rent open to reveal a bright and glorious sight! The Sun of righteousness risen with Healing in His wings, as the prophet Malachi foretold! Glorious, wonderful, astonishing, light in the midst of blackest darkness. Sin paid for. Death undone. Hope and Life and Peace forevermore. And this is His promise to all who still sit under the darkness of their sin, and grief and pain … He will return with the light of everlasting life. He will come back and every last shadow of gloom and defeat and despair will be burned away forever in His glorious golden light. That’s a holiday light display I can’t wait to see!

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!

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O Come Thou Key of David

O Key of David and scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

 The car door clicks and there is a sudden dread in the  pit of your stomach. Quickly you grab at your pockets and fish around in a frantic attempt to find them. But in your heart you already know that when you look back into the car you will see them there, still in the ignition or lying there on the seat where you set them down while you adjusted your list or your Christmas packages. Sure enough, there they are. Now what are you going to do? Make a phone call and wait. There is nothing else you can do.

For such a simple little thing a key excerpts such a profound influence upon our lives.   Just think about the last time you had to turn the house upside down looking for them. Or the time you lost one, or had it stolen, or left it in your locked car. How many times have you driven somewhere only to get there and realize you forgot the key, or grabbed the wrong one, only to have to go all the way back home to get it?

There are few feelings worse than being locked out of a place you really want or need to be. Can you imagine if that same feeling as you stand before the gates of heaven? It is a terrifying thought. How many people are searching their whole lives for just that right key that will grant them access? That right knowledge, or attitude, or work that will magically unlock the glorious door. How many, thinking they have it, are panicked time and again thinking that they may have lost it?

But what is the key to heaven? Where do you find it, and can you lose it? Will you be locked out of the one place you really need to be?  “Crux Christi clavis Paradisi” proclaimed John of Damascus. The cross of Christ is the key of paradise. The key of David, the scepter of the house of Israel came in the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of all. He came to unlock the doors of heaven once barred by sin, by paying sin’s price – a price of blood. He came to bring life and light to those who sit in darkness wondering if they will be left out. Once we were all of us locked out, without a key, without a hope, but now in this Holy Child born in Bethlehem the door of heaven is open wide – open to all – open forever. And the door to all fears, doubts, and misery is locked firmly behind us.

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!

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O Come Thou Branch Of Jesse’s Tree

O root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage; Come quickly and deliver us.

Religion and politics. Nothing in our world seems to be more quickly divisive. Everyone has an opinion … and most of them are wrong … I know you aren’t supposed to say it, but we do all think it from time to time. Getting together with family and friends at this time of year means having lots of conversations, many of which will fall inevitably into religion or politics. Lord deliver us from the shallow and intolerant opinions of those we love and otherwise care for!

And have you ever noticed that complain as we like about the government of the day (municipal, provincial, or federal – it doesn’t matter much as one of them is likely offending you in some way) we still all must answer their call. Complain about taxes all you want but you still have to pay them. Gripe about the system, but you still must play within the rules. Maybe it will be better after the next election.

God has the same deal. You don’t always have to like what He says, or agree with His policies, but in the end you will still play by His rules … even if only after you’ve already forfeited the game. Sadly this is a truth that even Mr. Hitchens has now found out. What God says is what will be, no matter how much you might like to argue. There is no free vote here – you won’t get a better leader next time around. You couldn’t find one no matter how hard you tried.

And the banner of all the Deity’s policies, the spearhead of His action plan is descendent of the royal line of David, God in the flesh – Jesus. An ensign before all peoples. But as with all great leaders, a lightening rod for debate and acrimony. Yet Jesus did not come to debate, He did not come to exclude or belittle or to cause discomfort at family Christmas parties. He came to deliver us from sin death and the devil. He came to deliver us from a world that would put itself, yourself, anything else in His place. And that He did by dying on the cross. And by rising again to Life on the third day He silenced His detractors once and for all. You may not like the idea of being beholden to the love and mercy of a crucified and risen Lord, but when He returns your knee will bow as surely as mine will. And until that joyous day I will continue to hope and pray that we will be on the same side of the conversation.

O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, Free them from satan’s tyranny That trust Thy mighty power to save, And give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel!