Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 9: Greg McArthur: O come O come Emmanuel

How often do you feel like God has abandoned you? Don't try to pretend like it doesn't happen; it's pretty typical. He's used to us humans being disappointed with Him: Half of the Psalms are laments. As a musician, I find great comfort in that kind of brutal honesty. Music is nothing without honesty, especially when you're addressing the Almighty.

If you have ever tried any sort of a relationship with God, you've experienced that He is sometimes hard to comprehend and hard to follow. Christ told us this up front: "Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be My disciple." That's from Luke 14. It's not an easy thing to hear, nor does it sound like the time of your life. Yet the Scriptures are full of tough sayings and truths. We are sometimes left bewildered when we read God's precious Word.

The Jews must have felt very bewildered in the time leading up to Christ's birth: Their nation was under political oppression. Their culture and traditions stood out like a sore thumb in the empire. Numerous leaders rose up and proclaimed themselves the liberator of the Jewish people, rallying many to their causes. They were all killed and silenced.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Caesar Augustus proclaimed the gospel of the Roman Empire: Peace under Rome! Abundance under Rome! Simply follow Rome and all will be well! Things were not looking up for God's people. Rome's hand tightened, and the situation began to look more and more desperate. Yet there were those who chose to trust God that hope was coming; they knew that God had not abandoned the earth.

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

Then, on a lonely night in a stable, God was born. He came as an infant through a teenage girl's womb, emptying Himself of all glory--God took no advantage of His status--In fact, He took on the status of a bondservant!

God's coming was not full of peace, as Satan is always at the ready to thwart God's plans. Satan attempted to kill the God child through the Massacre of the Innocents. Darkness attempted to snuff out the Light, but Hope survived.

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.

Remember, though, by the time Christ child had fled to Egypt to escape Herod, very few were aware of God's now-human presence on the earth: His parents, a few shepherds, some wise men from the East, and the evil Herod. No great following, no loyal servants, no royal entourage. Not until He was 30 years old did He have devoted followers, and they weren't exactly the bravest bunch of men you could find.

You can understand, then, why so many of God's chosen people were so quick to disbelieve that Jesus was the Messiah. He had no military, no political aspirations, and no intention of overthrowing Rome through force. He was not there to bring the kind of liberation the Jews were looking for.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ is frustrated at the lack of faith displayed by the Jewish people. He performs many signs, but the people either look for more earthly signs of comfort or believe that He's a servant of Satan.

In Matthew 8, a Roman centurion approaches Christ because his servant is ill, and Christ offers to come heal the servant. Yet the centurion says, "Don't go to all that trouble. Besides, I'm not worthy for You to come to my house. I understand how these things work. I'm a man who gives orders to people all the time. Simply say the word, and I know that my servant will be well."

The centurion recognizes Christ's power over sickness. This outsider soldier has seen the might of the great Roman army and its ability to conquer nations, yet he believes that one man's words have more power than any physician of the time.

And what is Christ's response to this? "I've never seen such faith in Israel! This man is the first of many outsiders who will pour into the Kingdom from all directions, sitting at the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! The people who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will be out in the cold, outsiders from grace wondering what happened."

Oh how precious these words are! Christ's warning should still be heard today! If we have no faith, we will be outside of God's grace. Growing up in the faith affords us no special privileges. If we don't believe, there will be no salvation.

God simply asks faith from us, and yet we find every excuse to withhold our trust. We forget: Hope is coming. God has not abandoned the earth. He sent His Son. That same Son will come again. That same Son who healed the sick, raised the dead, forgave sins, He has not left us. We are never alone.

Just as Advent is a remembering of the time leading up to the coming of Christ, it should be a time for us to look forward to His second coming. Our faith should not waver, for we have a God who keeps His promises. No matter how dark things look, no matter how bewildered you may become no matter how hard God may be to understand sometimes, remember this: He is always with us, even to the end of time.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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