The other evening I had a huge pile of dishes to wash. Well, OK, it wasn’t actually that much, but since it filled my sink and covered the entirety of my tiny counter, it felt like a lot. I avoided it until the though struck me that I could sing Christmas carols while washing dishes, and since Advent songs are some of my all-time favorites, I was actually excited to wash dishes. As I finished my third carol, I found myself looking around half-wishing for more dishes to wash, so I could keep singing.
There are so many wonderful carols. Seems that when God does something incredible, surprising, and unbelievable–like sending his Son to become human, yet fully God, to live with us and for us, to die in our place and drink the cup of God’s wrath that we should have received, to burst the bonds of death to give us life–seems that our response necessarily involves song, and lots of it.
One of my most favorite Advent songs ties together the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), and our rejoicing:
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, thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
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.
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.
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.
This carol is John Mason Neale’s translation of the Latin hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel, published by the Oxford movement in the mid 19th century at a time when they were digging up older Latin, German, and Greek (i.e., Roman Catholic, Reformed Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) hymns and translating them into English. It was a collection of Advent antiphons that had been sung in the church for hundreds of years before being translated into English. I’ve always loved the melody and the lyrics to this one. Random trivia: U2 used this tune on No Line on the Horizon in their song, “White as Snow.”
This Advent I hope to share some of my favorite Christmas carols, and perhaps a comment or two about why I like it or something about its history or context. Perhaps I’ll post a carol each day until Christmas, with the hope that in reflecting on the lyrics and the Real Story they describe, I’ll love Christ more deeply and become more like him, as he draws near to me. We’re told to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, and to speak to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, and we have the promise in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”
Come, Lord Jesus, come. Maranatha!